Sometime-conventional wisdom holds that jazz is relatively immune to the marketing and promotional forces that shape mainstream success in the rest of the pop music world. It is here, in this oasis of artistic integrity, the thinking goes, that musical worth is the only determining factor and the only route into the public eye. But even the most cursory glance can't help but reveal that statement as fallacy. Is Joshua Redman, for example, really head-and-shoulders above every other young tenor player around today -- as his press clippings would attest -- or does he just have a good PR machine behind him?
The latest proof that jazz stardom doesn't always go to the most talented is Longineu Parsons' Spaced: Collected Works 1980-1999, a striking collection of previously released gems, plus two tracks rerecorded for the compilation and two new remixes. Parsons, a trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer who currently teaches at Florida A&M University, is beyond obscure; he's pretty much an unknown, and with the exception of saxophonist Sam Rivers, who guests on two tracks, none of the personnel on Spaced will be known to jazzheads or anyone else. But the album is as sizzling and exploratory a release as has been heard from any major jazz label in years, and it begs the question: Why in the world has Parsons been unknown for so long?
Parsons balances an expansive and far-reaching compositional style with heavily percussive elements from Cuba and West and Northern Africa, and much of Spaced sounds a bit like an updated version of classic mid-'60s Blue Note albums by Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur, with funk and world music flavors. It isn't hard to see why Parsons caught the interest of the normally electronica-based Ubiquity label (of which Luv n' Haight is a subsidiary) -- tracks like "The Gathering," a trance-inducing journey that pastes North African-sounding melodies over an Afro-Cuban 6/8 percussion rhythm, or the aptly titled "Funkin' Around" could fit right into any trip-hop DJ's set without anyone missing a beat. No doubt this is the idea behind including the two remixes from Amalgamation of Sounds and P'Taah, which extrapolate even further the breakbeat and trip-hop nuances implied by the originals.
But Parsons' original takes are head- spinning enough. On tracks like "Party in Morocco" and "Soyuz Dance," on which he displays dizzying Freddie Hubbard-like runs on trumpet, or the compositionally intriguing "Spaced," Parsons makes it clear that he's an instrumentalist and composer of the first rank, regardless of where the shifting tides of the jazz world have landed him so far.