Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dafni - Sweet Time

Music and chemistry are similar.  Both can be expressed mathematically.  Certain combinations of sounds or substances result in repeatable reactions.  The musician and the chemist experiment with elements to produce a desired result.  Both rely on measures.

One major difference between music and chemistry is chemistry lacks heart.   Chemistry’s measures are prescribed and the results are immutable.  It is an expression of matter.  Music, on the other hand, is an expression of the soul - it answers no questions but makes statements solely for the sake of human expression. The results are transient and subject to critique and widely different interpretations.  When you make something chemically it is what it is. It can be nothing else unless you add something or take something away.  Music is what it is to each person who hears it and its effects change with the listener.  Combine music and chemistry and you end up with musical alchemy.

What got me thinking of this is Dafni.  She sent us her upcoming album Sweet Time  (produced by Dan Janisch and  set to be released on October 19, 2010 on her own label “Daffer Doodle Music.”).  It was a lazy Sunday evening, after a very hectic Saturday and laborious afternoon, that I first listened to the eleven track CD. 

Dafni’s full name is Dafni Amirsakis, but, she goes solely by her first name “Dafni.”  I don’t know what it is with single name musical artists - Sting, Madonna, Pink, Slash, Meatloaf etc.  I never understood the need, or desire, of an artist to hide his or her true identity from the public. In Dafni’s case it might be a marketing choice to hide her foreign, difficult to pronounce, Greek last name.  However, her Greek heritage is part of a great back story. It was the beauty of her grandmother’s voice, inherited by Dafni, that saved her family from the Italian soldiers when the Italians invaded Greece during World War II. The album is dedicated to Dafni’s late grandmother.

Dafni’s voice is reminiscent of Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux. She also channels a little Billie Holiday.  Her music is soft, mellifluous and boasts a jazz Americana sound.  On a lazy Sunday evening it provided the perfect background music by which to relax on the sofa with a Martini.

Dafni does more than sing.  She also plays electric and acoustic guitar.  On “Sweet Time,” Mark San Filippo, a disciple of Billy Higgins, who played with Kenny Burrell and Herbie Hancock, plays drums. LA session musician Geoff “The Wolfman” Rakness thumps the electric and upright bass.  Studio hand Pete Kavanaugh strums the electric guitar on four of the songs and former X, Bob Dylan and Alice Cooper guitarist Tony Gilkyson plays on three.  Solo performer Dan Janisch shows up with guitar in hand on one song, and with guitar, three-string bass, percussion and background vocals on another. Michael Bolger, known for his work with Rancid, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tony Joe White and Jewel, adds accordion, piano and trumpet, and singer Lisa Finnie provides background vocals. Dafni wrote each one of the songs on the album and they all come across as very inspired and personal. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the album so I decided to read the press kit and this is where my mind started to wander toward the similarities and dissimilarities between music and chemistry.  Here are some excerpts that pushed me in that direction: 

As she was gaining a basis in classical music and jazz, Dafni was also pursuing an interest in science first studying psychology in Chicago, then pre-med at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  She switched majors again after falling in love with the bane of most med students’ existence: organic chemistry.While pursuing her doctorate in chemistry at UCLA, Dafni’s musical career progressed through a combination of hard work and serendipity. . . .

So how does one get from a doctorate in organic chemistry to writing and performing extraordinary jazzy, sultry, music?  The two disciplines, at first, seem so different.  Then it struck me. Dafni’s attention to detail is impeccable.  Each song is tight.  The vocals exacting.  The technical ”organic chemistry” side of Dafni shows up in these production values and in her attention to detail. But, humans are not robots. We desire more than technical mastery, especially in music.  In her singing and songwriting Dafni finds emotional release. That is also what makes this a great album and Dafni an excellent up and coming musical talent  She is a vocalist who pays attention to the details; she has an incredible voice and a brilliant mind; and she uses music as her emotional outlet.  Dafni has learned how to manipulate music and substances for their ultimate effect.  She is not just a chemist and not just a musician.  She is a musical alchemist and I hope she continues to experiment.

 -  Old School

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