For the past two decades, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger Mike Dillon has established himself as a go-to session player and touring musician. As a vibraphonist and percussionist, he's worked with everyone from Les Claypool to Rickie Lee Jones, Ruthie Foster to Ani DiFranco, and Kinski to Marco Benevento. He's also led and co-led his own bands, including the Dead Kenny Gs, Critters Buggin', and Garage a Trois. But that's only part of the story. Over the course of four previous albums since 2009 under his own name, Dillon has been cutting through vast musical terrain to find the crossroads where modern jazz, NOLA street music, funk, jazz, ska, and guttersnipe punk converge. To a large degree, his earlier work all traveled toward Life Is Not a Football. Dillon (who plays vibes, marimba, bass marimba, tabla, and "sings") is accompanied by guitarist Cliff Hines, bassist Paul Thibodeaux, and alternating drummers Doug Belote -- his regular kitman -- and Matt Chamberlain (his bandmate in Critters Buggin'). Co-produced by Dillon and Richard Maloney, the set is impeccably recorded: it captures the raw, in-the-moment kinetic energy generated by these sophisticated but rather insane songs and frames them in Dillon's "punk as fuck" attitude. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, Naked City and Fishbone all come immediately to mind in this music, but so do Rip Rig + Panic and the Pop Group. Stand-out tracks include the clattering "Man Cunt" (co-penned by Dillon and Chamberlain), with its squalling reverb and drum-heavy, dubwise attack, and "Blast Beat Samba 23," which weds Cyro Baptista's perverse sense of humor to funky ska and electric jazz. While the beginning of "Robo Tripping Vikings" is an (intentionally) irritating nightclub-style group intro, its musical weave of surf, ska, and growling garage rock gradually gives way to vanguard, swinging post-bop. "Sweet and Low" weds NOLA's various street beats to R&B and absurdist punk, while the all-too-brief "Iggy in the Van" is neo-futurist punk funk. The latter tunes, such as "Bring Your Purse Back Full" and "Jazz Space Song," reveal the depth and breadth of the band's arranging and improvising chops. Life Is Not a Football isn't for everyone (especially not Dillon's ranting vocals). But it's not supposed to be. This is an extremely personal and political vision, played by a band who pursue the music with rigor and a wicked sense of humor.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek