Overall Rating: 3.5/5
WORDS || Jack Cameron Stanton
Like many compilations, Theo Parrish’s Black Jazz Signature is versatile and far-reaching in its style – and yet, while some songs definitely deliver, others don’t. It is a polarising listen, to say the least. Theo Parrish has a reputation for uncompromising experimental ventures in house music, respected amongst the ranks of Larry Heard, Moodymann, and Frankie Knuckles as a colossal influence on contemporary dance music, and this obstinacy is present in his selection of black jazz.
For me, stand out tunes include the first on the record, Doug Carn’s ‘Trance Dance’, a frantic, energetic paragon of fucking great jazz, and also Rudolph Johnson’s more melodic, sessionable, ‘The Highest Pleasure’, which goes down easy, and will appeal to even the uninitiated jazz listener. But I have to admit that occasionally I found the noisiness and chaos in some tunes became a little grating, or at least difficult to comprehend. It is no doubt raw and emotive, however. And that is perhaps the album’s strongest trademark: it is headstrong, yes, sometimes very dissonant, but doubtlessly passionate. Gene Russell’s ‘My Favourite Things’, for example, despite its iconic melody motif, is a challenging listen, with crashing cymbals and booming double bass working relentlessly, seemingly avalanching over each other, competing in the soundscape.
I’m going to give Black Jazz Signature a 3 out of 5, mostly because of its divisiveness. Some of the tunes really do shine. But the inaccessibility of others makes it tricky to listen through the whole record without wincing from a flurry of instruments that seem to be fighting one another instead of dancing with each other.
Review – Anthony Larbalestier
I was the one to suggest this album. I found the album after a friend Dan downloaded the entire Theo Parrish discography and I was left with an ungodly say 30 or so Theo albums which for some reason I ended up putting on my iPhone. I don’t even like Theo Parrish! Several songs from the album came on at different times while shuffling through my library and I was quite hooked by the experimental Jazz edge. I think it I had heard two or three songs from the album before ‘The Highest Pleasure’ came on and after that I wanted to listen to the album in its entirety. It was only then I found out the album was released by Theo, I’m not exactly sure what input he had on the actual composition of the songs but the album has his name on it.
My favourite song by far was the one that made me so keen to listen to the album ‘The Highest Pleasure’. The song features a cool double bass line, intense energetic saxophone and random piano sounds. It is pretty much what comes to mind when thinking black jazz. If you are a fan of acid jazz or songs with an experimental edge I think you will like it, I’m not really sure what to compare it to since it is quite unique and I am not well versed in the genre. Other songs on the album are a little too chaotic for me, they have too many loud noises that comes off as kind of like being hit with a wall of sound. There is little structure or sense to the songs and that makes them hard to listen to.
For me there are a few note worthy songs on the album and the individual tracks themselves are very interesting but as a whole I think Black Jazz Signature is not a great album.
I give this album a 3.5/5
Review – Nicolas Nalbandian
Producing a jazz compilation album of works from a fleeting, independent label in the early 70s may not sound like a typical whim of a DJ or electronic music producer, but defying expectations is nothing new for Theo Parrish. Black Jazz Signature is a nod to the African-American influence of Parrish’s own sonic beat-laden explorations i.e. ‘African Roots’ beyond its obvious debtors; the now superstar house and techno pioneering likes of Derrick May and Carl Craig.
The visceral rhythmic drive of work by The Awakening underpins solid solo performances, winding structures, and an upbeat acid jazz edge. Mirage stands out with frenetic serenity. Gene Russell’s works, especially his innovative spin of My Favourite Things will be sure to alienate uninitiated listeners of challenging jazz with its prodigious fusion of melody, dissonance and free-wheeling direction. Pretty hectic stuff, I rate it. Rudolph Johnson tends towards the soulful whilst maintaining plentiful weirdness – how’s about that scat mixed deep around 4:30 in ‘The Highest Pleasure’? The avant-garde edge of Walter Bishop Jr. makes for an intriguing, if unchilled listen in ‘Those Who Chant’.
Whilst disparate strands of jazz are finding in common a recent renaissance, this album’s brand of driving, experimental jazz epitomises the strength of African-American identity through musicianship in the 70’s. It embraces its roots in blues, yet realises an intellectual and instinctual style so distant from it- I see this realm of jazz as a rejection of African-American music as representative of their troubled history. In this light, I think Black Jazz Signature seems a natural choice for Theo as a purveyor of the obscure and African-American. Makes me wanna go listen to more Theo.