Dapp Theory – Layers of Chance (2008)

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by Mark Saleski

Some people really have the wrong idea about jazz. They think that most of it falls into two very broad categories: traditional, where guys in suits play an introductory theme before taking turns soloing over the developed chord changes; and avant-garde, also known as “cats-on-piano” jazz, where everybody just plays whatever the hell they want because, really … it’s “art,” you know?

It’s almost like it’s taken for granted that jazzers are not interested in having fun, what with the “serious” nature of the music. Not only are the above stereotypes just that, but it doesn’t take a lot of counterexamples to disprove the “no fun” line of reasoning. Here are a few: The Lounge Lizards (a New York outfit that casts film noir moods into the air, sort of); Medeski, Martin and Wood (grooves galore); Carla Bley (big band music that manages to be serious without taking itself seriously … really!); and then Dapp Theory.

When reviewing pianist Andy Milne’s solo record Dreams and False Alarms, I noted that Milne had a great talent for reimagining pop tunes. On Layers of Chance, Milne and company seem to take a fresh look not only at chord progressions as groove fodder but at the very idea of what jazz can be.

And what can it be? When does the cross-section of jazz and pop music (or in this case, hip-hop) push the result into zones that disqualify the “jazz pedigree?” I don’t have the answer and honestly don’t care as I can listen to vocalist John Moon rhyme over these insistent grooves all day long.

Grooves? Yes, given that Andy Milne has played on some of my favorite sway-packed recordings including the M-Base Collective’s Anatomy of a Groove and Steve Coleman’s Tao of Mad Phat, it’s not surprising that tunes such as “If You Count It,” “Deja Vu,” and “After the Fact” induced some major hip-shaking. When Chris Tordini’s bass and Loren Stillman’s sax swirl around Milne’s piano figures, it’s still really tough to remain still. Drummer Sean Rickman sits right there in the pocket, pushing everybody forward.

Dapp Theory reminds me of a weird Return To Forever/Steely Dan hybrid (I guess the ‘weird’ is redundant there). The band displays an interesting ability to adapt to simultaneous ideas in realtime. When a groove really gets cooking, you can actually hear the individual musicians trying to figure out the best places to “lock in.”

On top of all of this: it’s fun! Does anybody remember fun?

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