Detroit techno (and tech house) has never really received the respect it deserves in America. A small hardcore following extols the Motor City's electronic music, but the industry itself has been clueless with regard to marketing it. Anyone remember Astralwerks' worthy but overlooked 1995 compilation Detroit: Beyond the Third Wave? Thought not. That was the last attempt to thrust Detroit techno beyond the cloistered subterranean scene in which it dwells. Of course, commercial radio remains totally oblivious to its charms.
One Detroit act that deserves more attention and adulation is 3 Chairs, two of whose members—Theo Parrish and Rick Wilhite—play Seattle December 3 as part of Red Bull Music Academy's nocturnal entertainment agenda. (Malik Pittman and Kenny "Moodymann" Dixon Jr. round out the studio lineup.) The quartet issued a self-titled triple LP/double CD in 2004 (available via www.submerge.com) that proves these Detroit vets remain stunningly creative.
3 Chairs consists of nine long tracks that can roughly be classified as tech house, but the musicianship displayed throughout is more sophisticated than that usually heard on records of this ilk. For instance, "Misty City" is a pell-mell house track embellished by gorgeous Gil Evans–like piano, subtle chicken-scratch guitar, slithering Jaco Pastorius–like bass runs, and rhythmic shouts that lend the piece an ecstatic aura. It's a sure-fire dance-floor filler, but it can also be studied in a college music course (not that that's the ultimate indicator of a track's worth, but it is rare).
3 Chairs shift gears on "Underwater People," a downtempo chugger boasting sublime vibes that accentuate a sluggishly seductive 4/4 rhythm. This is deep, strange house science in which you can immerse yourself all night. The album culminates with "Midday Blues at Midnight," whose highly evolved jazz/funk-inflected dance strains (not much blues in it, actually) reflect what John Coltrane or Miles Davis might be doing now if they were still living.
Parrish himself has a voluminous back catalog, most of which has poured forth from his own Sound Signature label and, again, is difficult to find, unless you're a dedicated crate digger. His most readily available full-length is Ubiquity Recordings' CD reissue of his 2000 LP Parallel Dimensions. The disc abounds with deep, trance-inducing instrumentals redolent more of ancient African rituals than of Euro-American club fodder. Parrish deftly merges organic textures with intricate beat programming in mantric tracks that defy expectations by accruing potency the longer they go. His formidable chops and hypnotic stratification of synths, vocals, brass, hand percussion, strings, and piano within fluid tech-house parameters are spellbinding. Parallel Dimensions could appeal to minimalist-composition aficionados as well as to evolved clubbers.
With 3 Chairs, Detroit's not only in the house, but its producers helped to (re)draw its blueprint. DAVE SEGAL
Parrish and Wilhite play Sat Dec 3 at Baltic Room, 1207 Pine St, 625-4444, 9 pm–2 am, $10, 21+.