Tensei ‘Constellate’ (Tokyo Dawn) 4/5

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, the production duo of Tensei – consisting of Chris Kramer and Midas Wells – release their brand new project, ‘Constellate’, thus adding their names to the city’s rich musical tapestry established by icons including Curtis Mayfield, Louis Armstrong and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Spearheaded by the single ‘Liquid Tongues’ and its accompanying ethereal video, ‘Constellate’ suitably finds its home as part of the German label Tokyo Dawn Records, along with projects by label-mates Daz-I-Kue, OPOLOPO and Reggie B, carrying the torch for their “future funk and eclectic jazz” aesthetic.

‘Constellate’ serves as an exciting melting pot of musical styles with a sound rooted in hip-hop just as much as it is in jazz and the spectrum of styles in between, from soul to house and nu-soul. Thus far, Tensei have taken pride in never delivering the same project twice – each of the duo’s releases showcase an entirely new direction with Kramer and Wells seeming to relish the opportunities to navigate between genres and styles. In this case, Tensei’s vision is realised by an eclectic array of vocalists, rappers and musicians…

The sweet soul of ‘Amazing’ with multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter Sam Trump, and the afro-centric rhythms of ‘Ask Them’ (featuring Yaw and Najite Olokun Prophecy) are two standout tracks; former Prince collaborator and New Power Generation member Liv Warfield guests on another of the project’s strongest numbers ‘What If’, and A. Billi Free excels on the brilliant ‘Constellate’ opener mentioned at the top of this article, ‘Liquid Tongues’, which also boasts an appearance by Brandee Younger – harp in hand – adding a beautiful, dreamy texture to Tensei’s production.

While some tracks suggest the genesis of new relationships, others serve as continuations for long-term past collaborations like the aforementioned Younger, who can also be found as a part of Tensei projects as far back as their 2012 release, ‘Tensei One EP’. Dirty Science rapper, ADaD also falls into that category with his appearances on the same project as well as their joint January 2018 release ‘Danger Us’.

For a project clearly not short on ideas, a few more tracks than the seven presented here would have been more than welcome, but as mentioned, Tensei have an exciting online catalogue of music for fans to dig into – ‘Various Productions and Remixes’ from 2015 for example works as a further show-reel when discussing Wells and Kramer’s versatility as demonstrated through their reworkings of tracks by Anderson .Paak, Tall Black Guy and Bilal. While ‘Constellate’ may very well prove to be their most accomplished work yet, their relationship with Tokyo Dawn Records now whets the appetite for what may come next.

Imran Mirza