Apr 18 2013
On drummer Allison Miller‘s previous recording with her trio, Boom Tic Boom, had Miller’s drums as the ringleader, with pianist Myra Melford and bassist Todd Sickafoose enthusiastically getting swept up in the Miller’s compelling rhythmic approach… a vortex with personalized quirks and eccentricities to give it a choppy motion and staggered cadence. But there were sudden departures, whether it be the inclusion of a guest violin for a swaying track or the few tracks where the trio would duck under the enveloping canopy of Melford’s comforting melodic expressions. Overall, it was an album with a frenetic bounce interspersed with moments of delicate drift.
With her newest release No Morphine, No Lilies, Miller breaks loose from that mold. With the same trio at its core, it remains an album based on rhythm, and Miller’s personal sound continues to develop in a recognizable way, but that voice is expressed with greater exuberance and a wider expanse. Not just more facets to her music, but larger ones that allow greater light to shine through.
The result is an introduction to all the new possibilities where her music might take the listener, now and into future projects.
Your album personnel: Allison Miller (drums), Myra Melford (piano), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Todd Sickafoose (bass), and guests: Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet), Ara Anderson (trumpet), Erik Friedlander (cello) and Rachel Friedman (vocals).
Opening track “Pork Belly” transitions from a diffuse ferocity to a thick groove, shifting between the type of modern jazz that situates itself in territory that once belonged solely to the free improv musicians and into music that incorporates rock and reggae influences. And, yet, even with all of the sudden changes in tone and tempo, there exists a consistent sense of party-time attitude… an attitude expressed in a variety of ways in the song’s five and half minutes duration.
This leads into second track “Early Bird,” which lacks the celebratory demeanor of the previous track, but the duo of Sickafoose’s bass and Friedlander’s cello add a mischievous quality to the music, and it wouldn’t be out of place on a Sickafoose Tiny Resistors performance, which is often characterized by elements that could be described as impish and playful.
Third track “Waiting” leads out with Melford’s piano, but as the song progresses, all three trio members walk side-by-side, each with their own particular gait, but in concert, as they head for the final note. A peaceful tune, similar to moments on their previous album Boom Tic Boom, but the trio’s voicings simultaneously give it a larger presence and differentiates it from Miller’s previous album.
“The Itch” has a cheerful bounce. Guest Anderson’s trumpet is the primary instrument of buoyancy, but the odd tools of percussion Miller employs help push the exuberance from the opposite end. “Speak Eddie” keeps the exuberance going, with Bernstein’s slide trumpet getting things moving, then trading quips with Melford on piano. While clearly a modern composition, there are strains of traditional jazz played out here, which may be directly traced to Bernstein’s contribution to the song; Bernstein has often displayed a deftness at fusing old and new into something that sounds, well, both old and new.
“Six Nettes” continues the up-tempo mode. Melford runs up and down flights of stairs on piano. Sickafoose’s bass is the echo of her footfalls. Miller’s cymbals are the sound of frantic breathing.
“Spotswood Drive” gets Scheinman’s violin into the spotlight, a quavering ballad, a love song for the perpetually frantic.
“Once” is a Jessica Lurie composition from her album Megaphone Heart. With Rachel Friedman making her sole appearance on vocals, she brings all the heartbreak and longing of the Lurie original, as does the trio, letting the song crackle with life and hope.
“The Kitchen” is a storm passing overhead. From a distance, it starts as a simple affair, a straight-forward statement of thunder and lightning. But as the clouds approach, the music becomes a torrent of falling rain, receding only when the clouds move off to the horizon, becoming, once again, simple statements of thunder and lightning, growing faint and distant.
“Sun Comes Up the Reservoir” is, arguably, the prettiest song on the album. Between the gentle cymbal crashes, the lullaby violin, thoughtful piano expressions, and raindrop notes on bass, it instills a serenity that reflects the song title, not to mention Miller’s inspiration for the tune… a chance meeting with Paul Motian while on a morning run.
The album ends with the polar opposite of the previous song. “Nuh-Uh, No Sir” is a runaway train of rhythm and volume. Trumpet and violin create some wonderful moments of interplay in the midst of a hurricane of percussion and dissonance.
An album of quality music. And one of those recordings that doesn’t, actually, make a definitive statement. It’s a roadmark in a developmental arc that will be best appreciated when the arc is completed. Typically, those arcs, in Jazz, can be measured in threes. With No Morphine, No Lilies serving as the second of that possible arc, it’s just further evidence of the promise that lies ahead.
Released on the Royal Potato Family label.
Jazz from the San Francisco scene.