Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Layers of Dapp

Layers of Chance
Dapp Theory

The jazz-hip-hop thing has been around a while now and no longer has an automatic novelty value. While Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory made its reputation for such hip-hop influenced jazz, it happily sounds like a legit working band on their long-awaited new CD, Layers of Chance (on-sale today), that does not need to rely on novelty.

The music of Dapp Theory is surprisingly melodic throughout Layers and the rap elements are not overplayed. In fact, some of the best tunes on the release are strictly instrumentals, like “If You Count It.” Milne’s composition is given an interesting treatment, starting as a bright, up-tempo acoustic bop piece showcasing reedman Loren Stillman on soprano, but concluding with a moody arco bass coda.

The ballad “Tracking the Page” is another instrumental also featuring some notable soprano work from Stillman (although the synthesized strings are a bit heavy). However, the crisp melody of “Bird Calls” proves to be a great vehicle for Milne’s jazz chops. “Monk Walk” has some of the loping, off-kilter rhythms of its apparent namesake, but it is a funkier, electric piece dominated by soprano and keyboards.

When Dapp Theory does include “percussive poetry” from John Moon, it often does so with more inventive arrangements than then standard rap-brief solo-rap-fade format now so familiar. For instance, the concluding “Déjà Vu,” sounds like some groovy jazz-funk, with a nice acoustic solo from Milne, until about the 4:40 mark, when Moon comes in.

The lyrics “Blackout” might be the most compelling and intimate of the percussive poetry tracks. Combined with Milne’s snaky melody, it deftly illustrates how effectively Dapp Theory can integrate hip-hop elements and jazz. Likewise, “Bodybag For Martin” nicely balances the musical and vocal, with Moon entering almost exactly at the track’s halfway point. However, the “social conscience” lyrics cover well-worn territory (bordering the clichéd) that could have come from any other rap track.

Milne has a knack for intriguing compositions and his band can play. What is interesting about Milne’s group is that they sound equally comfortable playing as a unit both with and without the percussive poetry. Layers is a shrewdly balanced session that never sounds forced. It might even open some ears beyond the Dapp fan-base for its melodic and rhythmic sense.