What Do the Stars Say to You

If house music was a human being, it would be in its late thirties and plumb in the season of mid-life crisis, which makes a certain musical maturity an inevitable development. That it should be Chicago producer Ron Trent who brings house music its pipe and slippers on What Do the Stars Say to You is either remarkable or predictable, depending on whether you’re more familiar with Trent as the firebrand who produced the spartan dance classic “Altered States” at the age of 14 or the co-founder of Prescription, a label renowned for its unfathomably unwrinkled deep house.

What Do the Stars Say to You is the polar opposite of “Altered States” and other early house records that jolted their way out of Chicago and Detroit in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It is florid where so much early house was raw; laid back, where its predecessors burst with energy; and smooth, compared to the genre’s typically spiky funk. The album revels in an ultra-languid hybrid of house, disco, jazz, and new age that nods to Stevie Wonder’s sweetly pastoral Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants and the Germanic wooze of Tangerine Dream.

Trent is far from the first producer to bring live instrumentation to house: Masters at Work’s Nuyorican Soul project in the 1990s was a call back to the disco records from which house was born. But few producers have gone quite as far down the rabbit hole as Trent does here. The record features contributions from septuagenarian jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Ivan Conti and Alex Malheriros from Brazilian jazz fusionists Azymuth, and Texan psych outfit Khruangbin—an unlikely lineup for a house project. A hint of jam-band earthiness floats over the record like weed and patchouli at a Phish concert. (The album is designed, according to Trent, for “harmonizing with spirit, urban life and nature.”)

Synths and electronics do feature throughout the 10 tracks (15 on the mixed edition) but they are intended as a framework for the live musicianship, with Trent himself contributing drums, percussion, keys, piano, and guitar. Throughout, What Do the Stars Say to You keeps things immaculately clean and tidy It’s the kind of record where the mastering credit (New York house and disco legend François Kevorkian) really merits its prominence—an album to be downloaded in WAV and used to test out new speakers.

Maturity, musicality, and finesse are not always welcome words in dance music, and What Do the Stars Say to You makes no concessions to anyone who likes their house rough, ready, and machine-driven. Everything is smooth as velvet and as relaxed as a sloth sleepover, from Lars Bartkuhn’s silvery guitar solo on “Cool Water” to Italian ambient pioneer Gigi Masin’s synth lines on “Admira,” a song for those who consider Manuel Göttsching’s horizontal masterpiece E2-E4 to be a little too belligerent.

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