All of which only makes the notion of a jazz mix by Theo Parrish, a house artist deeply indebted to jazz, funk and soul, more appealing. Black Jazz Signatures is the latest in a series of mixes that draw exclusively from one label: Black Jazz Recordings, a short-lived outfit based in Oakland, California. Founded in 1972 by the pianist Gene Russell, BJR, in the label's own words, "represented a new and fresh alternative to traditional jazz, embodying the spirit of the black/urban awakening of the civil rights period." Though some had notable commercial success, the ten musicians on BJR's roster were, like Parrish, underground favorites, greatly appreciated by a relatively small group of people, especially connoisseurs and fellow artists.
To get Parrish to do the mix, Snow Dog Records—a Japanese label that does licensed reissues and mixes of the BJR catalogue—sent a package of hard-to-find LPs to a PO box in Detroit. Some time later, Parrish sent back a few different versions of his mix, all of which sounded quite different—some more challenging, others more serene. The one that made the cut is somewhere in the middle: the whole thing is bright and upbeat, but a frantic, dissonant energy occasionally creeps in. Parrish's mixing style is very hands-off—there are no effects, and never more than one song playing at once, though he does stitch the whole thing together into a single, flowing piece. Some selections that reflect his oddball creativity, like Gene Russell's rendition of "My Favorite Things," or the surprising change in rhythm on the final track, Walter Bishop Jr's "Blue Bossa." From beginning to end the mix is beautifully rich and energetic—not to mention enlightening. Black Jazz Records is a label worth knowing. As far as introductions go, you could do worse than a tribute mix by Theo Parrish.