Theo Parrish - Wuddaji Music Album Reviews

Theo Parrish - Wuddaji Music Album Reviews
As much as the Detroit dance producer’s aesthetic may feel familiar, the improvisatory results plunge into a whole new tributary of club rhythm.

There are hard truths to be gained from burst myths. So it was in 2017, when I interviewed the respected Chicago DJ/producer Ron Trent about the birth of “deep house,” a dance-music genre often reduced to a palette of muted rhythms and moody chords. Trent, regarded as of the sound’s 1990s architects, and one of Theo Parrish’s childhood friends, dismissed deep house’s genre attributes. It was, he told me, “a phrase we used back in the day to describe music that [Chicago house originators] Frankie [Knuckles] and Ronnie [Hardy] were playing. People had this perspective that house music was electronic shit, but that was considered eccentric. The stuff that Ronnie and Frankie were playing was disco and jazz and underground stuff. So we called that deep house.”

Trent’s insight unpacks the real-life cultural meaning of a phrase that dance music’s (mostly white) terminologists have diluted with their own projections, accentuating stylistic differences rather than celebrating the related virtues of house, jazz, disco, funk, techno, and other Black musical forms. His factual, broader definition of deep house also serves as an important point of reference for Parrish’s Wuddaji, the Detroit producer’s sixth solo album, on which he updates this original notion of “underground stuff” for 2020.

If one of the through lines of Theo’s career has been in setting the record straight—often christened deep-house royalty, he is likely to disregard the epithet as one more example of music-business glad-handing—the other has been to remain true to the spirit of dance music’s origins, even as he steers down rivers of his own choosing. Yet as much as Wuddaji’s dominant aesthetic of Rhodes piano, synths, and percussion may sound familiar, the results plunge into a whole new tributary of club rhythm.

Much of Wuddaji feels improvised, as though it had been made up (or at least mixed) on the spot. It’s foolhardy to call these meticulously layered hues “jazz,” even if the interplay between the keys and the mutating swing moves like a kaleidoscopic funk duo session. Yet this “live” energy, in which minimal elements are constantly in conversation with one another—in handcrafted rather than digitally synched detail—is this music’s distinguishing feature.

“Radar Detector,” for instance, is built around bass synth and a skittish broken beat; low-end echo ghosts the mix, and a shaker occasionally destabilizes the cadence further. Meanwhile, Rhodes and a right-handed keyboard line sing out short phrases before one begins to squeal deliriously. The mood is forceful, mirroring the forward drive of the title; the track’s internal logic emanates the pure id of Parrish at the controls. “Purple Angry Birds” and “All Your Boys Are Biters” are almost wholly percussive affairs, with every element focused on rhythm. The former features an insistent kick camouflaged by the faintest residue of a snare hit and is pockmarked with electronic tones that might represent the title’s subjects; an elegiac piano arrives about 90 seconds before its 10-plus minutes expire. The latter is simpler yet, a drum-programming flex that could easily be a live, one-take MPC masterpiece. They are Wuddaji’s most “techno” moments, but techno as performed by a drumline.

This on-the-fly quality is in keeping with a lot of the recordings Parrish has been involved in since the release of 2014’s exultant American Intelligence. It was there on his four “Gentrified Love” EPs, which featured collaborations with Detroit players who move fluidly and expertly through Black rhythm and improvisation, including trumpeter John Douglas, keyboardist Amp Fiddler and the producer Waajeed, and on his production for a Melbourne soul-jazz quintet featuring keyboardist Silent Jay and the Hiatus Kaiyote rhythm section. Jazz has also been a central element of Parrish’s legendary DJ marathons throughout his career, whether as content (spinning records by everyone from Gil-Scott Heron and Brian Jackson to Incognito to the Black Jazz label) or as form (treating the mixer as his improvisational tool as skillfully as anybody in the game). In lieu of bringing together musicians in a shared space in real time, Wuddaji practices solo improvisations learned partially from those DJ sets—gathering sounds from a long memory, fitting them into a new context. There are times when the interlocking rhythms—programmed drums, percussion samples, percussive audio fabrications—speak in language patterns as though across time.

Two notable deviations reinforce Parrish’s commitment to musical representations of Black joy and resilience. From its name on down, “HennyWeed BuckDance” is the set’s most populist party tune, dicing and looping bluesy electric guitar against vamping electric piano and chugging, bass-heavy drums; slinking along at 106 BPM, it is a groove by any other name and a worthy candidate for every history of soul. “This Is for You,” with vocals by co-writer Maurissa Rose, is something else entirely, one of those instantly classic anthems of simultaneous uplift and strength, melancholy and loss, aligning itself not with the actions of exceptionalists but with everyday heroic toil. Its four-chord melody reinforces the repetition of daily struggle, the beat building and building, and Rose’s voice, at times pleading, at others full of graceful fortitude, balances all the ideas embedded inside a life.

A single originally released in 2019, “This Is for You” could have easily been a record created for the summer of 2020. But it only seems like Wuddaji was made with our immediate times in mind; Parrish’s vision of Black music exists on a much longer timeline. “I do feel that music coming from the diasporic community, it needs to carry weight,” he said in an interview last year. “Whether that weight is a reflection on the experience. Whether that’s weight in terms of it freeing you from what you have to deal with. Or weight that’s talking about direct lessons about how to survive this shit.” That weight was in the records that Frankie and Ronnie played, and it is here as well. I don’t think you can get any deeper.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Theo Parrish - Wuddaji Music Album Reviews Theo Parrish - Wuddaji Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, October 07, 2020 Rating:

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