“It’s tempting to idealize the ‘artist’ mentality here and say something sappy like, ‘If not music, then life would be a mistake’, but I’m pretty sure that I could be just as poor and happy doing pretty much anything…There’s art in everything.”– Dirk Quinn
Well, when Dirk Quinn isn’t quoting Nietzsche, he’s making music. The Dirk Quinn Band has just released their third album aptly titled, Live at Home. It’s a compilation of songs recorded on the road in the Philadelphia area, and serves as a testament to their uniquely aggressive, instrumental improvisational repertoire. This album is labeled as “Jazz” for which several names may come to mind: Bird Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis—perhaps, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Pat Metheny, or, cringingly, Kenny G. If you’ve read about the Dirk Quinn Band, you may have seen references to Medeski, Martin, and Wood or John Scofield, and this is fine—but I’d like to suggest you suspend the urge to slap a label on the music and style of the DQB.
Last Thursday, I attended their Live at Home CD release at the World Cafe Live in Philly during which they played 7 of the 13 tracks off the new album. (Show coverage can be found here.) So, follow me down this rabbit hole—through the eyes and ears of a die-hard, rock-n-roll freak, as I spiral through a mix of jazz, funk, progression, and rock release.
The 80-minute experience begins with “7 Swings” where each musician introduces himself with a polite sample of sound, then Dirk Quinn hits with a raspy guitar riff a la Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and the bass of Stephen Kurtz drips in like shoe-fly molasses. Michael Borowski’s organ joins, melts, and they all smooth out into a sleepy train ride, chugging to the drum beat of Steve Zegray. But just as you settle in and put your feet up, you’re snatched up by the talons of the “Evil Birdman of Funk”—a throwback from the QuinnTet album. A quick word: These guys have mastered the manipulation of meter and rhythm. It’s mismatched but purposeful—there are no mistakes here.
Evil Birdman exhibits multiple trips, skips, and jumps with a nice pairing of Quinn’s guitar and Borowski’s synth keys. Kurtz rolls a silky bass line that has a diabolical Mars Volta feel, as the song slows down into a cigar and brandy, leather armchair atmosphere. Then a piano interlude intrudes, with multiple changes in key followed by an abrupt ending which leaves you feeling like, “Wait, I was just enjoying that taste…” But you don’t care because the “Macadam Song” picks you up like a never-ending staircase—running up and down, then gentle, flighty, picked up and let go by the wind. Quinn squeezes out some hard guitar matched with a counterpoint of Borowski’s ethereal piano, then Kurtz comes in with a bass break picked up again by the B-man’s elegant keys, swaying down like a feather drifting from the sky. It culminates with yet another change-up to a strong, solid oak finish.
You’re then treated to “Mikey’s Horse”: a piano solo that is regal, refined, and careful, almost Ballerina-like in its precision. It finishes with a touch of dissonance as it leads into a Dirk-a-delic Pink Floyd cover of “The Great Gig in the Sky”. I only wish they’d strayed a bit from the original and with a bit more of Max Swan on saxophone, though Quinn’s replica is more than satisfactory. “Eve” (another throwback from the self-titled Dirk Quinn album) rolls and lulls with a billowing 7-count guitar riff that transitions in and out, circling around a recurring theme reminiscent of Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Swan’s sax finally elbows its way into this starry dreamscape. Borowski gets playful on the piano with a chopsticks lick during the crescendo and ends with a cute, tongue-in-cheek “Shave and a Haircut”. “Rainy Friday” starts off with a haunting and disoriented feeling of wandering through a Salvador Dali painting. Quinn’s fingers create a magnificent effect of guitar-coated raindrops and if you’re paying attention midway, you can hear the nightmarish urgency of “On the Run” from Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The album culminates with “Escalator (Temporarily Stairs)”, a high energy blast where Max the Sax finally shines through. The band is “ON”—Kurtz plucks some “womp-womp-womps” to get your neck moving and stinkyface grooving. And watch out, there’s a “Smooth Criminal” waiting for you, led by Borowski’s shredding organ.
As if my effusive storytelling about this band and their music wasn’t enough, I must end with a word on the band members. I caught up with them briefly at the show and they are a fun and polite group of guys. Their chemistry on and off stage is authentic and genuine—they live, breathe, and jam for the music…and it shows. Support them by visiting dirkquinnband.com and by purchasing the album from CDBaby. A slideshow and images of the band can be found at Kevin High Photography, kevinhighphotography.com. Please visit his music galleries here.