Not all albums register immediately, sometimes it takes a while for unusual and individual music to settle in your subconscious, reveal itself incrementally as little details emerge with familiarity. This new release from Andy Milne and Dapp Theory, on Whirlwind records in the UK, is a good case in point
Toronto born Pianist and keyboard player Milne first emerged from Steve Coleman
's Five Elements, and played with many of the prime M-Base musicians including the likes of Cassandra Wilson
and Greg Osby
. While he retains many creative irons in the fire this is the third album over a fifteen year period by Dapp Theory, whose purpose Milne has said is to "tell passionate stories, promote peace and inspire collective responsibility towards uplifting the human spiritual condition." Lofty words that he seeks to deliver through an eclectic and equally ambitious musical palette that takes inspiration from sources as diverse as traditional Armenian music, hip hop and heavy metal, from Thelonious Monk
and Joni Mitchell through KRS One to Van Halen.
As that description implies it is an interesting and quite unusual sound that draws the ear through the avoidance of commonplace combinations. Take "Photographs" for exampleit begins with an initial impressionistic synth effect, presumably mimicking the rhythm of an old film camera motor drive, overlaid with Aaron Kruziki
's sax theme that the band gradually builds into the spoken word 'vocal poetics' of John Moon. The slightly manic edge to Moon's narration, a fond reminiscence for a grandmother from old photographs, shouldn't work but does. The tone has clearly been designed to avoid any sentimentality subverting expectations, think Digable Planets after 8 consecutive double espressos, unsettling yet somehow intriguing for the listener.
This reflects the way that the band works musicallythe combinations are certainly unusual and occasionally unsettling too, but they are also memorable helped more than a little by the quality of the performances. Should you doubt the thought, intelligence and intent here consider Milne's sleeve note comment that "Spoken language affords our species multiple dialects of communication, however, a misplaced accented syllable can lead to humorous or disturbing miscommunication." Milne's backing for Moon's narration is sympathetic and supportive before an exceptional section where he leads the band into a resolution of the tension, prior to the restatement of the theme. It brings things firmly back to jazz and feels like an assertion of controlthe band saying this is no game, its serious and we meant it this way.
The use of sampled drums and percussion for the opening sections of "In the Mirror Darkly" is intriguing and gives a similar feeling of displacement and unease before the eastern influenced sax line from Kruziki dominates. The synthesizer lines initially have a little of the nightmarish quality of The Hurting
-era Tears for Fears before they too are supplanted by Milne's rippling piano solo. This would work fantastically well as a superior film soundtrack, setting the mood but with plenty of nice touches to hold the attention for home listening. "Search Party" is a blend of these approachesMoon returns further out still than even "Photographs" but this time over a mix of choppy synth lines, guitar and pounding rhythm that would grace an edgy independent crime film.
Just when you think the tension is too much the mood shifts and one of US jazz's finest modern vocalists, Gretchen Parlato
, pops up with Jean Baylor
to lend some atmospheric wordless vocal textures to "Katharsis." Wonderful though this contribution is, the cumulative impact of what has gone before still leaves a vague unease, perhaps an expectation of a sudden plot twist that inevitably is intentionally frustrated.
As might be expected in a collection this eclectic, it doesn't always work -the breadth of the musical ingredients occasionally feeling incoherent. Main offender here is album closer "Headache in Residence" that starts off promisingly with the feel of say Rickie Lee Jones' "Traces of the Western Slopes" before sliding into some interminable 80s soft rock guitar texture and solo-ing. This is presumably the Van Halen influence and guest guitarist Ben Monder would probably benefit from some stern chastisement and enforced viewing of "This is Spinal Tap" before contemplating something of this sort again.
On balance the eclecticism remains a strength of the album since the influences are largely used intelligently rather than encouraging the musicians into a free for all mess. That is not to say it is always an easy listen'Forward in All Directions' is occasionally oddly unsettling. Try to analyse the individual elements and nothing should jar, yet as Milne says the odd intentionally misplaced accent fundamentally alters the received meaning. Listen once and you could be forgiven for some confusion, but persevere and this CD will be on your deck for a while. This may yet be just a start -Milne's sleeve notes declare that "I'm just scratching the surface," and if, as his website reports, he is already working on a suite for a ten-piece edition of Dapp Theory we could be in for quite an exhilarating journey.
1. Hopscotch; 2.Photographs; 3. In the Mirror Darkly; 4. Search Party;
5. Katharsis; 6. Nice to Meet You; 7. The Trust; 8. How and When Versus
What; 9. Fourteen Fingers; 10. Headache in Residence.
Andy Milne: piano, prepared piano, fender rhodes & synthesizers; Aaron
Kruziki: soprano & alto saxophones, clarinet & bass clarinet, douduk,
additional keyboard programming; John Moon: vocal poetics (2,4,5);
Christopher Tordini: acoustic & electric bass; Kenny Grohowski: drums
GUESTS-Ben Monder: guitar (4,8,10); Jean Baylor: lead vocal (5);
Gretchen Parlato: additional vocals (5).
Musician Name #2: instrument; Musician Name #3: instrument.