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Published: 2012/11/15
by Sam Robertson

Mike Dillon

Royal Potato Family

When it comes to making music, Mike Dillon is a strange dude. Between teaming up with saxophonist Skerik in an assault on everything wrong with modern jazz in The Dead Kenny G’s, serving as a sidekick for ultimate musical oddball Les Claypool, or working with Marco Benevento, Stanton Moore and Skerik to push the boundaries of instrumental jazz rock in Garage A Trois, Dillon has never been afraid to embrace the weirder side of music. Joined by the newly assembled Mike Dillon Band for new album Urn, Dillon’s musical ADD shines through with songs that jump between jazz, punk, hip hop and funk.

Dillon greets the listener with clanking xylophone on the album’s first song “DVS,” before drums and horns kick in. Just over the course of the five-minute first song, the music weaves from traditional, big band jazz into hard-hitting funk, and culminates in a Big Easy horn extravaganza with dueling trombone, trumpet and saxophone. And more musical styles leap in as the album continues.

Hip hop makes an appearance on the album’s second track “Leather On,” and maintains a steady influence throughout Urn. Dillon unquestionably follows in the footsteps of Frank Zappa and bands like Ween that find a place for humor in music, and while he is no lyrical genius, at the very least his street poetry approach to lyrics and rapping will make you crack a smile or two. The all too-repetitive chorus of “Saturn returns you’ll never learn, pushin’ up buttons from an urn” on “Saturn Returns” might give you a mild headache after a couple listens and “Leather On’s” chorus “Motherfucker!” is amusing at best, but at other points, his stream of consciousness rapping on wild drugs and crazed, cool jazz cats feels like passages out of a William Burroughs’ novel.

Dillon’s rapping and lyrics only appear on a handful of tracks, and always take a backseat to his music, which is as charmingly abrasive and chaotic as ever. Most songs are based around Dillon’s frequently melodic xylophone lines, with sparring horns and guitar adding extra flavor. This may be a Mike Dillon album, and while his complicated, creative approach to songwriting fuels everything, this doesn’t sound anything like a solo album. Dillon may be the bandleader, but Urn is all about the band, a band that hops on a dime from swing to funk, from hip-hop to free jazz and metal. Urn is a challenge to listen to in the best possible way, and is an education on the history of a variety of American musical styles – and the sounds that they can create when you’re daring enough to fuse them together.

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