Rainer Trueby, To Know You/Ayers Rock

Daniele Buetti - One Blue Hand
Artwork by Daniele Buetti

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Rainer Trüby’s name (slightly misspelled) is the one on this record’s label, but he is not the only person responsible for the music in its grooves. There is a whole cast of characters to go through, but since Trüby is not exactly a household name himself, it might as well start with him. A key player in the nebulous “future jazz” sub-genre, Trüby titled his 2003 debut album Elevator Music, cheekily anticipating the criticisms most likely to be leveled at his smooth, mellow music. Danilo Plessow, better known by his production alias Motor City Drum Ensemble, is a collaborator on these two tracks. Equally crucial, however, are certain other collaborators unaware of their own involvement: Roy Ayers, Syreeta Wright, and Stevie Wonder. Ayers is mentioned by name on “Ayers Rock,” based on an uncredited track (tracks?) by the legendary soul-jazz vibraphonist. It is reminiscent of one of Plessow’s edits as MCDE: a chiming Rhodes, snatches of a soulful female vocal, and real hands really clapping. You’ve heard it all before, but you rarely hear it done this well.

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“Ayers Rock” is a gratifying track, but its flip, “To Know You,” is beyond belief. To appreciate its achievement, consider the other two names cited above. Syreeta Wright is best known for a minor R&B hit in 1975, the inscrutably charming “Harmour Love,” penned by her then-husband Stevie Wonder. Film-goers became familiar with it in 2005 as the deceptively happy introduction to Phil Morrison’s unsettling cinematic exploration of white identity, Junebug. But there’s more to Syreeta Wright, who released two excellent LPs in the early seventies, featuring voluminous input from Wonder. Unfortunately, both are long out of print. One hopes that the master tapes — along with those of Eddie Kendricks’ People… Hold On, Wonder’s Where I’m Coming From, and other classic-but-unavailable soul albums — have been sitting on some record company shelf obscured from view by the Beatles tapes. Now that those relics are out of the way, maybe we’ll get the reissues we really need.

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“To Know You Is To Love You” is a duet with Stevie Wonder from Syreeta’s 1972 self-titled debut. It is not quite the space-age R&B Wonder perfected on his own albums of that period, opting instead for a bluesy Stax-Volt vibe. Though the title, which is also the first line Wonder sings, sets the stage for a saccharine love song, things are not as they appear. “But to know me,” Stevie adds, “is not that way, you see.” Trüby and Plessow strip away nearly everything from the song except this ambivalent couplet. They restructure the harmony of its underlying keyboard vamp, turning the minor-key melodrama of the original lyric into a coldly detached statement of fact. It is impossible to discern an intention in Wonder’s voice. Is this a rejection, or a plea? Is it a tortured lament, or a cynical boast? There are no more words to say.

“To Know You” brings “To Know You Is To Love You” into the sonic future Stevie Wonder imagined in his classic work. Trüby and Plessow squirt Bootsy-esque bass all over the groove, drenching it to the bone in a funk you can smell. Square-tone riffs, shimmering 303 melodies, subtle string stabs, and percolating hi-hat variations make the track thrillingly unpredictable, suggesting intense emotions bubbling under the surface of its lyrical sentiment. For those who can’t look beneath that surface, this track might seem as stolid musically as Wonder’s voice seems emotionally. That old term “elevator music” might even come up. Is this record elevator music? Maybe it is. But need I remind you what comes out of elevators when the right people get stuck in them?

tom/pipecock  on September 24, 2009 at 4:32 PM

this record is hot as hell.

littlewhiteearbuds  on September 24, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Just received my copy in the mail today!

harrison  on September 25, 2009 at 12:30 PM

simply brilliant!

matt  on September 25, 2009 at 3:49 PM

Any idea where this can be purchased in the US?

littlewhiteearbuds  on September 25, 2009 at 3:56 PM

We haven’t found any retailers selling it inside the U.S., but the “buy” link above is a fast and relatively affordable option.

Chris O'Connor  on September 29, 2009 at 8:44 AM

I played this at a rave last weekend, and it went off!

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