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Pat Van Dyke - Hello, Summer Music Album Reviews

The New Jersey jazzman combines hip-hop sensibilities with the precision of Count Basie in a collection of highly controlled compositions that are nonetheless warm, languid, and dedicated to the funk.

The New Jersey jazzman Pat Van Dyke is in his mid-30s, which means he’s part of a generation of players who grew up immersed in hip-hop. That has put the music he plays, composes, and produces in direct conversation with beatsmiths like Oddisee and Kev Brown, whose love for analog sounds gives their music an organic feel. Van Dyke doesn’t make beats, exactly. But he does favor repetitive, mid-tempo jazz that, although it occasionally features mild improvisation, often resembles the Native Tongues beats of the 1990s. It wouldn’t just be possible to rap over many portions of his compositions; it would be tempting.

For beatheads, Van Dyke’s Hello, Summer is easily his most compelling album since 2014’s Technicolor Hi-Fi, a cult favorite and spiritual ancestor to many of the lo-fi compositions that now circulate on YouTube. Composed and produced by Van Dyke, the new record is built on a series of melodic refrains that either grow or transform over the course of each track, undergirded by the artist’s alternately splashy and subtle percussive instincts. It also features a gang of Tri-State session musicians, including eight different brass players. They give the music the force of an ensemble, and the album comes to feel something like Count Basie directing a big band dedicated to lost Roy Ayers compositions; it is highly, almost restrictively controlled, but nonetheless dedicated to the funk. And though the songs are modest and predominantly bright, their surfaces ripple with small surprises.

Many of these come from Van Dyke’s cunning, low-key touches and abilities as a multi-instrumentalist. The bandleader started playing the keyboard when he was five, then switched to drums four years later. Though he has no shortage of collaborators on Hello, Summer, he plays many of its instruments himself. The album’s best tracks, like “Lotus” and “Go-Go,” are driven by melodies that emerge from unexpected places: an opening salvo of bass on the former and a current of earthy guitar on the latter, both performed by Van Dyke. Another standout, the funky “Blues for Benny” buzzes with mild psychedelia, making excellent use of David Stolarz’s organ and a charismatic trumpet solo from Eric “Benny” Bloom.

The eighth of 11 tracks, “Blues for Benny” initiates a stellar late-album run. “Stone Road,” which follows, may appear to be the simplest composition, but it builds to a comforting groove that feels as breezy as a short ride bike ride home from a long barbecue. And it brings us back to that feeling several times, punctuating the theme’s second arrival with another lovely solo from Stolarz. “Gutterball” and the closer, “All I Need,” are similarly evocative, the band putting all its effort behind bringing the soul of each song to fruition—coaxing, from a series of discrete sounds, a rich and complex essence. Naming an album after a season can be a gamble; if the tunes don’t fit, the whole effort seems flawed. But that’s not a problem here, as the brightness of the album’s opening half gives way to a dreamy sensation that exactly matches the vibe of a lazy August night.

Tracks like these rescue Hello, Summer from the easy-listening label some of its lesser compositions deserve, as Van Dyke permits solos on “Clockwork” and the title track that are almost too pleasant—lilting digressions that sap both songs’ energy. But while its pleasures may seem simple, the album’s effortlessness rewards repeated listening, which brings new snatches of melody and particular performances to the fore with each spin. Rich with funky, danceable melodies balanced by disciplined musicianship, it’s a feel-good instrumental record par excellence.

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