Has it really been seven years since the last 3 Chairs release? Bar the compilation Spectrum that landed in 2009, the intermittent supergroup of Detroit titans that is Kenny Dixon Jr., Marcellus Pittman, Rick Wilhite and Theo Parrish has been absent from the airwaves for some time. Considering there have been just four singles and one album from the collective since they first hooked up in 1997, it’s understandable if there’s something of a clamour around a new single from four producers who tend to create feverish responses individually, let alone as a combined unit.
“In The Dark is a reality, a small example of how music music and cultural activity thrives in Detroit,” says Still Music label boss Jerome Derradji in his sleeve notes for the imprint’s first compilation. “Every day and night, through the hands, ears and mouths of essential creators, the future of Detroit’s music is being shaped. All we can do is listen and dance in the darkness of a sweaty club.”
There is no doubt that Rick Wilhite is one of Detroit’s least celebrated underground heroes. While he has a sizeable following in underground house circles, the Motor City veteran has yet to reach the same levels of wider acclaim as contemporaries Kenny Dixon Jr or Theo Parrish. Indeed it’s now at the stage where he’s famous for not being famous, so to speak. This can partly be attributed to his notoriously slow work rate; while his brothers-in-deepness keep a steady flow of releases, his singles are sporadic to say the least.
Analog Aquarium could go some way towards redressing the balance. It’s his debut album, and true to form, it’s a crackly, spaced-out gem. The ten tracks on display are loose, fuzzy and out-of-focus in that distinct Detroitian style, where each cut manages to appear unfeasibly well produced whilst sounding like it was recorded in a cement mixer. The sound is muddy, but peel back the layers of delay, reverb and raw distortion and the throbbing machine soul comes through crystal clear.
Predictably, there are plenty of ocean-deep forays into the scratchy, hypnotic style known as Detroit beatdown. “Dark Walking” (a collaboration with Marcellus Pittman), “Music’s Gonna Save The World” and “Sunshine Part 2” are all brilliant examples of this loose, almost horizontal take on deep house. “Cosmic Jungle” takes a similar approach, but boasts a nagging urgency (thanks largely to a relentless 909 bassline and some lovely live percussion) that’s noticeably missing elsewhere.
It’s not until we get to “Cosmic Soup” and “Deep Horizon” that the pace picks up. On the latter Wilhite injects a dose of urgency into the dub-laden chords thanks to some reliably hectic Latin percussion. It’s a gem. The former, meanwhile, is as stripped back and raw as they come; house at its most instinctive. Throw in two explorations into jazz-funk/disco fusion (one, “Blame It On The Boogie”, with Theo Parrish and Osunlade) and you have an album that somehow manages to do so much and so little at the same time. That, though, is its genius. Listen to it on headphones, and you’ll know what we mean.
Rush Hour – undoubtedly the vintage Detroit/Chicago reissue kings of 2010 – return with a collection of rare gems from Rick Wilhite, one of Detroit’s most respected purveyors of all things underground. The Godson & Soul Edge compilation showcases the material Wilhite released on Kenny Dixon Jr aka Moodymann’s KDJ Records in the 90s. Although he has never been as lauded as his 3 Chairs cohorts Theo Parrish and Dixon Jr (partly due to a comparative paucity in solo work), Wilhite is nonetheless an important piece in the Detroit electronic music puzzle, thanks to both his productions and his work as a record buyer and dealer.
There are three versions of the inimitable “What Do You See”, which samples a line from Carolyn Crawford’s 1978 burner “Coming On Strong” and builds a track around it with a killer drum roll and analogue blat. There are also three different versions of “Drum Patterns & Memories” – one from Rick himself and two from Moodymann. Theo Parrish’s ‘late’ dub of “Get On Up” is perhaps the highlight here, and anyone who has heard this on a decent soundsystem will know how good those chunky old school kick drums sound when given a workout. Urban Tribe’s remix of “Good Kiss” is a slow burning dub techno bomb, and there’s also a hitherto unreleased track by Rick entitled “30 Days Later” to round things off. What ‘s most impressive is how playable all of these tracks still sound – everything here was first released on 12” back in the 90s, yet it still outshines the vast majority of house music being made in 2010.
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