Finding middle ground on ‘What Kinda Music’

What Kinda Music brings together two contrasting figures in London’s jazz scene. There’s Tom Misch who is attuned to popular and more accessible forms of jazz, and Yussef Dayes who prefers to experiment. So for their first collaboration, we see them learning to compromise, finding a middle ground. These are songs born out of improvisation – not knowing what’s to come, but following intuition and feeling where the two musicians explore each other’s sound. And while it “came out quite organically”, the result is heavy, complex, and adrift – like being on an unplanned journey. Hence, “what kinda music?”, Misch asks in the title track.

Exploring the capabilities of the guitar and drums is a highlight on this album. Its title track opens with spiralling guitar arpeggios as the drums are getting tuned – the idea of bringing out the musicality of a tuneless instrument. It’s notable in “The Real”, as its pitched instruments drift in the upper register, allowing Dayes to explore the nuanced sound of the drums and to progress with his drumming.

What makes this album a step from Misch’s previous work is the dark, gritty influence of Dayes on Misch’s playing. “Channeling that energy brings out something different in me,” he says. And the album sees Misch’s more experimental relationship with the guitar, often drowning his melodies in delay, reverb, and wah-wah.

Still, there’s a familiar structure that underlies the complexity, making clear Misch’s direction on the project. Verse-chorus structures underpin lyrics about love, and Misch’s resonant guitar lines remind us of the warmth of Geography. Much more blatant is “I Did It For You”, its lyrics a gleaming repetition of its title over a modest funk-soul instrumental. 

There’s ultimately a sense of balance on this album. “Tidal Wave” brings alive the polarity of its album cover, referring to its blazing sky (“The sky’s blood red”) and its darker contrast (“Chaos / Throwing midnight like a tidal wave”), with “Nightrider” showing its personification: “I ride low with the setting sun / Mr Dayes with the break of the drums / It’s icy (cold)”. We imagine Dayes’ and Misch’s musical personalities as two colours that blend well, showing that the beauty of the album lies in its collaborative spirit.

Much of the album’s appeal comes from the feeling of two guys jamming with their instruments. The sense of relief at the end of “Kyiv” is like the feeling after a great jam sesh, and it explains why the songs came organically. Sometimes this can feel alienating as these artists are very much invested in experimentation, often losing themselves in the sound and causing some songs to end up droning on longer than needed or to lose distinction. But the album has managed to capture two musicians beginning to explore their sound, who now have a stronger relationship with their instrument.

Favourite Tracks: Tidal Wave, The Real, Nightrider

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