Bassist, bandleader, and composer Riley Day and his band Daydream have a new album, “Squiggle.” A hit live, this new album is full of the band’s characteristic high energy shows. The album is zany and playful in the way many Mingus or Zappa tunes are. In that vein, the album includes a cover of Peaches en Regalia, along with many originals. Day, now 33, grew up near the KC scene. From De Soto, Day’s parents drove him to The Blue Room, The Phoenix, and The Majestic when he was a kid, where “people under 21 (could) watch the KC musicians,” Day said. Day’s mother also knew saxophonist and jazz educator Doug Talley: “My mom and Doug Talley are friends from middle school, so we caught his gigs a few times. He would play with Rod Fleeman as a duet in Lenexa every now and again, so I had a chance to see him and even take a guitar lesson, which was insane.”
“Taking little rhythms, intervals, and melodic fragments and turning them into progressively more complex ideas is a fun way to compose and a reliable way to keep the ear’s attention.” Riley Day All grown up, Day is also an educator by day and a musician by night. He teaches strings. “My day gig is being the 6-12 orchestra teacher for the Emporia, Kansas, school district,” Day said. “I’ve been at it for 6 years and I love it…. A middle school teacher needs patience and perseverance. If you have those two qualities, you’ll put on a great concert. Daydream is the same way. The band reads at a MUCH higher level than middle schoolers do, but the charts always need time and some experimentation in order to work… Teaching has put a good perspective on this and has made me a better arranger in the long run.”
Day writes complex charts, along with co-conspirator (and trumpeter) Dalton Williams. But these tunes are energetic, fun, highly listenable. Day’s tunes share characteristics with Mingus and Zappa compositions in that they often shift abruptly between styles and (rhythmic) feels. A tune will be airy and lilting, then shift to a heavy metal-like riff, one that might also be a nod to the percussive, staccato passage that appears near the beginning of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Although a gifted and skilled bassist, guitarist, and bandleader, Day’s most striking skill is as a writer. His compositions are really like no one else’s—at once complex and edgy, but also full of lilt, playful. And always energetic. The tunes are crowd pleasers. At shows, people get up and dance. Daydream is an all-Wichita group, except for Day, who moved away to Emporia after grad school at Wichita State. A 9-piece group, Daydream is not small, and the band has a big, big sound, with lots of horns. They have a vibe as bright and sunny as Manhattan’s ska band, Ruskabank, and a similar following. It’s standing room only when Daydream plays. They’re no pick-up gig. As Day said, the band meets “2-3 times a month because we love each other, and the music is a fun challenge to do together.” Of the album, Day said, “…we wanted the listener…to close their eyes and have a good time.” Like Ellington, Day makes good use of the talent he has when it comes to his band. He highlights each band member’s individual gifts and skills. As Day put it, “Other strengths in Daydream don’t necessarily come as a band, but through each individual. We have great arrangers in the band, so we use them to write. The great improvisers get the solo features, and the great readers get the hard passages.” Speaking of hard passages, Daydream’s tunes are not ones someone can read down cold. They’re a sight-reader’s nightmare, full of time and tempo changes, tricky and complex syncopated passages. They’re athletic. Some pages are full of ink. But that’s part of the charm of this band. Though they make it sound simple, airy, joyful, and fun, the tunes can only be approached by experts, and even they will have a tricky first time through.
As Day said, “Zappa is an obvious influence for me. I love how he controls dissonance in his melodies… I also LOVE the motivic development that dudes like Brahms and Dvorak mastered. Taking little rhythms, intervals, and melodic fragments and turning them into progressively more complex ideas is a fun way to compose and a reliable way to keep the ear’s attention.” And attention-getting this band is. Day rocks out on his bass often, waving his wild mane of hair like a headbanger as he plows and plunges through a solo chorus. There are no dull moments in a Daydream gig. So too with this album. With Daydream’s strong (and mighty) horn section, some might compare the band to Tower of Power, and “Moon Party,” the album’s fifth track has that definitive feel during its introduction, along with a good deal of shifting emotion, a kind of Sturm and Drang. Funky and bright (and complex) Daydream also shares other comparisons with that masterful horn-powered group. Daydream’s strong, syncopated, lively drum and percussion section also fits the bill. And with Daydream “odd” time signatures don’t sound odd. They sound hip and natural. Daydream is Tyler Gauldin on alto sax and Luke Young on tenor; Dalton Williams on trumpet; Lucas Hulett on trombone; Meri Jenkins on French Horn and keys; Micah White on guitar; Riley Day on bass; Andy Slater on drums; and Joe Mikelait on percussion. The album also includes eye-catching art by Miles Foley, featuring a complete “live show” poster type painting for each tune. Many of the images loft pop culture, from comic books to video games. (The cover appears to riff on a scene from NES’s Super Mario Kart.) The poster art also gets at Daydream’s focus on fun. The art captures the band’s zany nature--how the tunes, though difficult, are also listenable, danceable, for everyone. Get this album and go see a live show. This is a band like no other. Like with a Zappa or Mingus band set, what you hear will be completely new, and full of energy: fire and lift.