Theo Parrish's scattered collaborations have often made for some of the brightest moments of his deep catalog -- hear 1999's "Summertime Is Here" above all, where live vocals, trumpet, and sax contribute to a grand, out-of-time collision between soul-jazz and abstract house that conveys a hot August day's spirit as romantically as Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness" and Quincy Jones' version of "Summer in the City." In 2003, Parrish took the symbiotic approach a couple steps further by introducing his Rotating Assembly, with a 12" release featuring help from a group of friends and longtime associates. Natural Aspirations is the daunting progression and end result, radically bolstered by appearances from a shifting ensemble that's well over a dozen in number. The recordings are hardly as cramped as the figure indicates; just over half of the tracks have vocals, while bass, brass, guitar, hand percussion, and other assorted instruments are placed within productions that retain the rugged and raw -- yet somewhat silken, practically cleansing -- characteristics of the producer's past works. Those who are being introduced to Parrish will likely be taken aback by the production values. Not necessarily lo-fi, all of the tracks seem to be sheathed in a thick haze, giving off the sense that you're not truly in the moment, actually hearing a recording as a turntable spins or as lasers are read. Occasionally out-and-out spooky, the tracks sound more like they're being played by your memory. Several cuts are as organic as house music gets, full of life and spontaneity. The gospel-steeped vocals, from the likes of Maat Lo, Karen Bosco, and Genevieve Marentette, are occasionally blurred out to the point of rendering the lyrics undecipherable, but it's clear that the subject matter revolves around romantic or spiritual devotion. "Split Me Open" and "Melt" are relatively mechanical given their use of programmed rat-tat-tat/pitter-patter drums. Even so, these tracks maintain living, breathing qualities, since the first works in a spare bass rumble and distant bongos, and the second relies just as heavily upon deeply affecting synthetic-string vapor. "Orchestra Hall" is the most staggering, dynamic track Parrish has made; one-half a fleet of nimble percussion and the other a set of pulse-racing string swoops, you can envision a movie scene with the screen split between a post-heist getaway and a shot of the producer conducting his string section in front of a rapt audience. All startling moments considered, this is a remarkable achievement from an underground visionary and his many helpers. The only straightforward thing about it is that it connects directly to the soul, hips, and brain.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman