Album Review: The Mike Dillon Band’s Urn

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Mike Dillon Band

Urn

Royal Potato Family Records

Release Date: September 25, 2012

 

Track Listing

DVS

Leather On

Saturn Returns

Fluorescent Sunburn

Demons

Ding Dong The Party Is Over

River Is Burning

 

Personnel

 

Mike Dillon – vibraphone, percussion and lead vocals

Carly Meyers – trombone, Moog Taurus pedals

Adam Gertner – drums

Cliff Hines – guitar, bass and keyboards

 

Bandleader, percussionist, vibraphonist, bandleader, vocalist and songwriter Mike Dillon has been around for some time now – his career as a touring and recording artist goes back to 1989. Over the past 20 plus years, Dillon has been extraordinarily prolific as he’s simultaneously been a member of Garage a Trois, Les Claypool’s Fancy Band, the Dead Kenny G’s, Critters Buggin’ and fronts his own quartet, the Mike Dillon Band. Dillon has also performed with an eclectic range of musicians including Ani DiFranco, Galactic, Kevin O’Day, James Singleton, and a long list of others. And throughout all of these various projects and collaborations, Mike Dillon and his work have developed a reputation for uncompromisingly (and playfully) defying conventions and defying easy categorization – while being sweaty and accessible in a way that most people don’t think of modern jazz.

  Released last September, Urn, the Mike Dillon Band’s latest effort, released through Royal Potato Family Records continues Dillon’s reputation for being difficult to pigeonhole, and bristling with a brash, experimentalism. Sure, its jazz – but it ain’t the safe, limpid background noise of Dave Koz, Kenny G. or other purveyors of deadly dull Weather Channel Jazz. Album opener “DVS” starts off with chiming vibraphones, and a big-band era horn line, and it sounds much like it could have been the soundtrack to a cartoon chase scene. Picture Yosemite Sam chasing Bugs Bunny in the ACME bomb, bullets, anvils and widgets department, because it has a swinging, playful wittiness – that is before it turns into a moodily (almost doomy) atmospheric bit of fuzz. “Leather On” has Mike Dillon rapping like Snagglepuss on heavy doses of Vicodin and tranquilizers during the verses, to a bit of cool, New Orleans-styled jazz. But when he shouts “Motherfucker!” during the chorus, guitarist Cliff Hines starts playing punk rock riffs – the sort that would make you headbang hard and start moshing, as Adam Gertner bashes away at this drum kit.  In fact, when I saw the Mike Dillon Band playing this one live, kids were rocking out hard, and I thought to myself, “This would scare the shit out of Wynton Marsalis, wouldn’t it?” “Saturn Returns” is a funky track that has a segment that could have easily been on Garage a Trois’ last album, Always Stay Happy But Stay Evil – it buzzes with an energy that’s kind of menacing but invigorating. “Demons” employs the heady, complicated and yet incredible fusion style of Return to Forever – it’s a song that could easily be considered prog rock, thanks in part to the tonal shifts, and time signature changes. “Ding Dong the Party Over” starts off with bouncy vibraphone chords and Meyers’ ebullient trombone. When I heard this track live, I turned to my buddy Abdul and told him how I thought it sounded a bit like the kind of jazz that would be in the head of a deranged madman like Gary Busey. Album closer, “River Is Burning” has an unfettered, primal energy, thanks to Dillon grunting parts of the lyrics as though he were dancing around a fire.

   Back in the 20s and 30s, jazz much like the blues was considered illicit, dangerous and full of possibility and in his own way Mike Dillon brings jazz back to a dangerous, primal sensibility – and trust me, it’s much needed. And through repeated listens, the material on Urn reveals something new and creates different interpretations. It’s an album that has won its way into my rotation and I think it will for you, too. 

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