The technique-tweakers of the beat-making world are the reason why hiphop, dance music, and their more cerebral-sounding offshoots will have mass-market staying power longer than jazz did. Today’s hardware freaks, sonic hackers, and glitchsters have a growing number of tools for reconstructing the funk, whereas even a bona fide saxophone genius will always be stuck with a hunk of brass. Like jazz players, however, beat-makers often build on each other’s subtleties, copping ideas whenever convenient. Sorting out the nuances can sometimes seem like a waste of aural energy for noninsiders, but some of the stuff is nifty even when part of its mission is to impress the cognoscenti. Case in point: Detroit resident Tadd Mullinix’s Dabrye project, which attempts to hold the middle ground between head-nodding hiphoppers and edgier funksters such as Scott Herren of Prefuse 73. Herren’s Eastern Developments label is the home of Dabrye’s Instrmntl, but the largely vocal-free 30-minute mini-LP rarely borrows from the Prefuse playbook. Herren is often inclined to leave his sonic source material good and hacked-up, but when Mullinix slices samples, the scars are hidden. And whereas Herren’s beats seem made for quiet headphone contemplation, Mullinix’s percussion sounds best at maximum volume, which perfectly complements his deep electro streak. Cuts such as “No Child of God,” “Prospects (Marshall Law),” and “This Is Where I Came In” are well-stocked with old-school blips and lock-step synth grooves, but Mullinix also proves to be handy with chunks of jazz, notably on “D-Town Tabernacle Choir,” which flips a bubbly piano loop in every conceivable direction without fracturing it. The track’s cleverness isn’t obvious at first, but its basic musical appeal will probably be apparent to anybody raised on A Tribe Called Quest.
The same could be said for most of Instrmntl: Though Mullinix plays the role of thoughtful technician, his best cuts deliver more than just the sounds of science. —Joe Warminsky