Composer-drummer Ilya Dynov’s debut album Bridges is a playground for the ears, sounding polished, sophisticated and nourishing. The title track is a fast ride through town, pulsingly light yet insistent thanks to Dynov’s percussive magic and the engaging musicians on piano, bass and trumpet. The ensemble slowly stirs together a lush-colored mood in “68th Street,” which has a way of evoking great thought pieces like Coltrane’s “Central Park West.” Then you have “For Those We Love,” with the melody immediately declared by trumpet in its assertive opening statement; a song that allows each voice to explore and bring us along for its dips and rises. The bounce and luxury in “Drum and Berries” is a delight and immediately lovable. An album with beautiful substance.
From left: Lonnie Plaxico, Jihee Heo, Ilya Dynov and Alex Norris.
What period of jazz and what artists in particular (also percussionists) have inspired you the most?
I am influenced by a wide range of jazz artists from various periods like bebop, hardbop and even fusion. Some artists I think of are Miles Davis, Max Roach, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Art Blakey, Kenny Kirkland and many more.
What frame of mind do you need to be in to compose?
I mostly start with a melody and develop it further. I like to work with the concept of theme and variation followed by a bridge. Harmony follows after, but harmony can also inspire the further development of the melody of the main theme or the bridge. Sometimes I start with a bass line and the melody follows after that. I rarely start composing from the drums, but I would like to experiment with that more in the future.
How do you find the New York City scene and what do you like most about it?
It has a lot of great musicians and jazz clubs. It’s a very inspiring place. I love that I can experience great music every day, as a player and a listener.
What’s the biggest obstacle in staying relevant as a composer and as a performer?
I think the hardest part is to try not to repeat myself and be inventive every time. I want to compose in different styles and out of my comfort zone. As a performer, it is challenging for me to let go of all thoughts and let the music flow without any preconceptions. I heard a lot of great artists such as Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, to name a few, talk about this concept. Having complete trust in myself within the music.
How did you choose the members of your ensemble and what does each one contribute musically?
The musicians from my ensemble are first class. I was very fortunate to be able to record with them. They are incredible players and make me and my compositions sound better.
Pianist Jihee Heo has amazing insight in harmony and a very deep understanding of the music. Her solos are like stories written by great writers. They build up gradually and keep the listener interested from the beginning until the very end. She also made a huge contribution by producing my album. Lonnie Plaxico is a legendary bassist. He is very supportive, has a very strong beat and always makes the music sound better. He supports everyone’s playing by understanding the placement of everyone’s beat while following the harmony and soloist at the same time, and also inspiring the music with his choice of notes. Trumpet player Alex Norris is an incredible soloist who can play any kind of music and just takes the music to another level with his superb phrasing and sound.
What is it like to solo and take your space, then trade it back to the others?
When playing solo, I try to get inspired by what the other musicians are playing while keeping the melody and form of the song in mind.
What do you mean by a “mature sense of harmony”?
Since I’m a drummer, I think there can be a lot of preconceived ideas from people that might think I would not be able to write complex harmony and the album would be very much based on rhythm. I believe that with my compositions, I showed that I can write music that you would expect from an instrumentalist of a harmonic instrument, for example, on the piano and demonstrating my ability to write songs with a deep understanding of harmony and melody.
What are your favorite elements of percussion or favorite types of effects or techniques?
I love everything about the drums. In jazz, I love the open tuning of a drum set and a melodic approach of the instrument. I also like to focus on the ride cymbal beat and on the cymbal sound in general. For the recording, I especially used different cymbals with a lot of variation in sound because I feel it’s important to find the right frequency to support the different parts and instrumentation of the songs.
What inspired your latest music and how would you describe the songs?
For this album, I wanted to have a balance between more traditional jazz, hardbop and modal compositions. I wanted to have old and new as well as more free elements in the composing. For example, in the song “Constellation,” I wanted to portray a more open and free approach with less focus on harmony. On the other hand, songs like “Hope Through Sadness” and “68th Street” have challenging harmony where the performance is more bound to chord changes. It’s also always great to include a blues, heard in the song “Blue.” Meanwhile, I included a little bit gospel in “For Those We Love.” The song “Bridges” reflects on the real New York vibe with an intense, fast, swinging performance. The composition “Drum ’n Berries” is written as more traditional jazz, showcasing a long melodic development in the theme. As a drummer, I had to include some drum solos in the “Intro” and “Finale” and in the beginning of “Blue.”
Your favorite part of being a musician?
I love that the learning experience, creativity and exploration never stop. It’s something that will keep me interested for the rest of my life.
Are you always composing, and if so, what’s in the works right now?
I compose in periods of time. I just started to work on my new project. There will be more compositions with odd meters and a more modern approach. I’ll also try to make a couple of songs more drum-focused.
I’m practicing different concepts on the drums that will make me more able to play more challenging and advanced compositions. The drums should inspire the composing and the songs should inspire the drumming! I’ll present the music at the end of the year in New York. I’m looking forward to new challenges!
I would also emphasize the beautiful artwork on the album made by my mother Irina Dynova and her partner Patrick Louwyck. I’m very proud of my debut album and thankful to everyone who supported me in this!
For more information, visit www.ilyadynov.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2023 Debbie Burke
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