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Jim Miller is a drummer/composer who, with his Dreambox Media label, has helped to promote a number of fine artists from the Philadelphia area. It is with some interest, consequently, that he has finally released a title under his own name. With If It's Not One Thing' Miller has created an album that ranges from innocuous contemporary jazz to a pair of tracks that are questionable in concept and execution; but more about that later.
Miller has assembled a fine band, including keyboardist Jim Ridl, whose name has been on the rise in recent years as a result of his association with guitarist Pat Martino. Ridl's contribution to the record is substantial; his solo over the walking bass line of 'Eudemonia' demonstrates a unique voice that deserves broader recognition. Denis DiBlasio shines on multiple saxophones, but especially on baritone, which is all-too-seldom heard as a lead voice; his work on the lightly swinging 'Grateful Regret' shows that the baritone can be a remarkably tender instrument.
Miller's compositions are, for the most part, interesting and pleasant enough but demonstrate little to elevate them from the rest of the pack. The one exception is the track 'nineleven,' which starts with electric sitar, guitarrone and percussion, lending it a middle eastern flavour before a crash cymbal signifies a change in feel, no doubt representing the crash of planes into the Twin Towers; a broader expanse takes over; a repeated bass line provides the anchor over which drum shots come out of nowhere, distorted electric guitar jars and, along with the saxophone, create a disturbing texture over which phone call transcripts from the World Trade Center, courtesy of the New York Times, are superimposed.
As the track builds in intensity so do the voices, as they describe the attack; panic sets in. 'Where's the stairs? Where's the stairs?' one voice screams' another voice tells his wife he loves her and his daughter, that people are jumping from the building and he has to go. This is an unbelievably difficult track to listen to, and raises the question of exploitation. The track is extremely successful in capturing the sense of panic and desperation, both musically and with the voice-overs; but much like the Time Magazine photos of people jumping from the Twin Towers, one is left wondering if such an overt way of delivering the message is truly necessary.
The track segues into the concluding piece, 'American Fado', where vocalist Suzanne Cloud sings 'Once we had something real'It's gone now'lost; Remember when we fought for freedom; Tell me what do we fight for now; Our dream was stolen away by patriot thieves; Slaves to power and greed; New gods'tell me what do we live for now.' Over a Latin-tinged ballad, it all seems trite and simplistic.
On one hand kudos to Miller for creating a pair of pieces that recreate the emotions of an historic disaster; on the other hand the question is: is it truly necessary to be this literal? Miller clearly demonstrates the incredible power of music, but there is a certain feeling of exploitation that leaves one feeling more than a little angry.
The majority of If It's Not One Thing , in the final analysis, pales behind the final two tracks, and these pieces, in their attempt to convey a deep set of emotions, are at the same time successful as pieces of art and quite possibly exaggerated and unnecessary.
Track Listing: Sex Cymbals, Sonoluminescence, Simm's City, Suzy's Upright, everEddie, Cool, Eudemonia, Grateful Regret, Downtown Brown, nineleven, American Fado
Personnel: Jim Miller (drums, percussion, keyboards), Jef Lee Johnson (acoustic guitars, electric guitars, electric sitar, electric bass), Denis DiBlasio (baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute), Jim Ridl (acoustic piano, keyboards), Steve Varner (acoustic bass), Tyrone Brown (acoustic bass, guitarrone), Mark Knox (keyboards), Suzanne Cloud (vocals), plus speaking voice 9/11 transcript from NY Times