Dylan Hayes Electric Band
Songs for Rooms and People
There is no photo of Dylan Hayes on the CD jacket, but a quick search reveals a 20-something. Indeed, this is his debut album and it has tons of youthful energy flowing through the keyboards, whether acoustic or electric, that Dylan Hayes plays on Songs for Rooms and People. His Electric Band, a quintet with a couple of guests joining on select tracks, sets up some churning, irresistible grooves rooted in jazz, R&B, funk, and neo-soul.
Originally from San Francisco and a child prodigy of sorts, Hayes has been a mainstay on the Seattle scene, having graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in 2019. He’s worked with drummer Xavier Lecouturier (also a member of the Electric Band) in their DX-tet for years, and has also has been handed the baton for the long-running Jim Knapp Orchestra. You also can find him gigging around the Northwest with the likes of Jay Thomas, Jeff Busch, Evan Flory Barnes, and many others, “BC,” (before coronavirus) of course.
Drummer Lecouturier has been a friend and musical colleague since Hayes’ teen years in California’s Bay Area. Some musical similarity to their DX-tet is natural on this recording, and Lecouturier does earn writing credit for four songs here. The band also includes Santosh Sharma on tenor sax and EWI (electronic wind instrument), Tim Carey on electric bass and Martin Budde on guitar. Both Budde and Sharma assist in the composing. Seattle stalwart Jay Thomas guests on trumpet on three tunes while Bay Area friend Nicole McCabe adds her alto saxophone to one. On the tunes that Thomas plays on, that front line combination in combination with the keyboards and rhythm section is like the Horne Electric Band, released on Ropeadope last year (should you need a reference point). But, with ‘Electric Band’ it means fusion in any case.
One can easily tell that Hayes and Lecouturier are a tight partnership. Both are incredibly strong players with huge presence throughout, confidently handling complex rhythm patterns, in several instances’ different tempos simultaneously or within the same tune as on the Lecouturier composed opener “201.” McCabe joins for “203,” featuring Hayes driving on the electric keys. A clear highlight is the ballad tempo “Song for D,” a tribute to his Cornish College mentor Dawn Clement, featuring stately acoustic piano. There’s electronic effects underneath, some synthesizer and synth bass, too, but all in service of the piano sound and a soulful spot from Sharma on tenor. “Song for E,” which appears earlier is also quite good.
Hayes’ strength lies in using his different keyboards in tandem, whether playing them simultaneously or layering. He does so with finesse and a keen sense for melody and harmonics so that they blend rather than dominate. The first single, “Nellies” is a good example of this dual keyboard player/producer combination. The opening keys riff is tweaked and modulated so that it sounds like a dozen different instruments. The melody line is undergirded by synthesizer waves, providing a support without drawing attention from the lead keyboard lines.
While most are strong compositions by Hayes and his bandmates, their inspired arrangement of the old Ahmad Jamal hit “Poinciana” is a clear standout. Lecouturier’s drums hint at the Jamal trio’s hypnotic rhythms, and the familiar melody only briefly commands the performance. Sharma’s tenor solo takes it out of the standard realm. Hayes dazzles on his funky keyboard break, Thomas marries tradition and contemporaneity on his trumpet, and the rhythm section is locked in.
There are also plenty of strong soloing moments from the band. Hayes synth solo and Sharma’s EWI solo on the improvised “Trio Mood One” are especially inventive. Both Sharma and Thomas shine on “It’s Been a Minute.” Another strong piece is the one that sparked the band’s creation, “What the Funk.” Like the title suggests, it’s a throwback to the way Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock used electric keyboards and synths in the ‘70s – classic fusion updated.
That classic fusion was often an in-your-face all-out attack but Hayes and his Electric Band never come off that way in this auspicious debut. They stay grounded, playing interactively in support of the tunes, giving us plenty of fireworks in their own understated way.
- Jim Hynes