Theo Parrish

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
First Floor (1998), 7/10
Parallel Dimensions (2000), 6.5/10
Sound Sculptures Volume 1 (2007), 4.5/10
American Intelligence (2014) , 6/10

Detroit's dj Theo Parrish joined the crowded ranks of deep house (a hybrid of house, jazz, funk and soul) with dozens of EPs and singles, notably the senselessly propulsive single Took Me All The Way Back (1997), the EP Moonlight Music & You (1997), that contains the twelve-minute Music, with a convoluted beat, and the eight-minute Moonlite, with a frenzied beat, the single Smile (1997), the EP Musical Metaphors (1997), that contains the twelve-minute Carpet People Don't Drink Steak Soda, the EP Roots Revisited (1998), with the eleven-minute African-polyrhythmic Dan Ryan, probably the apex of this period, and the EP Pieces Of A Paradox (1998), that contains the more aggressive eleven-minute Ebonics and the comic twelve-minute novelty Dusty Cabinets.

The sprawling First Floor (Peacefrog, 1998) stood as a demonstration of the genre's potential eclecticism. First Floor Metaphor (9:36) blends a piano reminiscent of orchestral soul, an oneiric electronic loop, sporadic hyper-bass lines, and a loop of chopped-up vocals. Parrish's method clearly borrows from the repetitive technique of the minimalists and this is nowhere more evident than in the saxophone and piano pulsations of Love Is War For Miles (9:01). One of the most elegant tricks take place in Electric Alleycat (10:01), in the intersection of a piano carillon and funk syncopation that leads to a foridable polyrhythm before decaying into a melancholic funk-jazz jam. A booming hyper-bass and swinging hi-hats coexist in Paradise Architects (6:02) over an undulating piano motif. The virtuoso dj does what he wants with the quacking beat of Dark Patterns (11:07), not only stretching it but also drowning it into a sorrowful atmosphere. The rhythm ranges from the graceful, feathery lounge-oriented Heal Yourself And Move (10:17) to the exuberant, quasi-charleston propulsion of Sweet Sticky (7:15).

The EP Overyohead (1999) contains the 13-minute Overyohead and the liquid, suspenseful, jazzy, nine-minute Dance of the Drunken Drums

Parallel Dimensions (Sound Signature, 2000) opens with a piece (So Now What) that exploits the sound of big-band jazz, and later Summertime is Here (a 1999 single) indulges in romantic saxophone melodies and wordless crooning, but the rest expands way beyond snippets of jazz, and in particular towards the third world. Anansies Dance enhances an Afro-Caribbean beat with vocal effects (a collage of dissected vocal samples) until they are displaced by a Dollar Brand-esque piano motif. There is less grandeur in this album and more subtlety. The breathing-like electronic undulation and the African percussion of Serengeti Echoes are intersected by a crowd of vocal snippets. Violet Green weds the timid minimalist repetition of the first album with the African percussion. There is also the more conventional thumping ecstasy of Reaction To Plastic.

Meanwhile, Parrish was also a member of the Detroit project 3 Chairs with Kenny "Moodymann" Dixon and Rick Wilhite. They released the EP Three Chairs (1998), that contains Parrish's Rain For Jimmy (the closest to a poppy melody he had been yet), and the full-length Three Chairs 3 (2004), with the 17-minute Blackbone Waltz and the 13-minute Dance Of Nubia. Spectrum (2009) is a 3 Chairs retrospective.

The single I Can Take It (2001) displayed little more than soul vocals. The eleven-minute Suns Of Osiris, off the EP Location Of Lost Colors (2001), is another piece that fuses minimalist patterns and jazz horns. The single Instant Insanity (2001) sampled Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues and weaved in testimonies of the September 11 terrorist attacks of that year. The EP Natural Aspirations (2003) contains the side-long suites Friendly Children, a La Lambada remix with children singing the refrain, and industrial Timeislafinacharunninout, first bordering on musique concrete and then delving into a percussive orgy with poppy vocals. The exuberant single Capritarious #7 (2005), with jazzy keyboards, and the single You Forgot/ Dirt Rhodes (2008) were relatively minor, but overall these years between the second and third album represented a peak of creativity.

The triple-EP Sound Sculptures Volume 1 (Sound Signature, 2007) entered boldly into jazz and soul territory with the fantasia Galactic Ancestors, whose jazzy melody is introduced midway by keyboards, the soul lament Second Chances, the torch ballad Soul Control, but it was the exact opposite of "creative". The monotonous Synthetic Flemm was emblematic of the dearth of ideas. (The CD version is completely different, almost a remix album with unreleased material).

Much better was the double-disc American Intelligence (Sound Signature, 2014), another exhilarating whirlwind of percussive strategies, from the oneiric and hypnotic Drive (10:50), despite the hysterical beat, to the martial and android Life Spice (7:35), from the funk and jazz orgy of Tympanic Warfare (9:36) to the acrobatic tapping of Fallen Funk (9:58), from the hyper-jazzy Helmut Lampshade (8:44) to to the disco-soul inferno of Be In Yo Self (13:07) But half of the album is taken up by redundant and monotonous tracks.

Sound Signature Sounds (2000) is a compilation that contains a 13-minute version of Ebonics. Its Vol 2 (2012) contains I Can Take It (16:36), Suns Of Osiris (7:06), Rain For Jimmy (9:07), Capritarious (7:42), Dirt Rhodes (7:01), Instant Insanity (12:10) and Timeislafinacharunninout (10:29).

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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