Joel Miller: Mandala (2004)
Canadian saxophonist Joel Miller experienced an epiphany in 2002 that affected his musical direction. The title of this album dates back to Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and has been used in a number of ways including, in this case, achieving wholeness and forming a harmonious relationship with one's self. Coincident to this important change, Miller ventured from Montreal to New York, where he heard Kurt Rosenwinkel and convinced the guitarist to join him in Montreal for some club appearances. If one reads the liner notes before a first listen, a certain expectation is built up in light of the above revelation, and not knowing what Miller's musical style was prior to 2002, I'd be curious to hear his earlier début, Find A Way , from 1996.
Joel Miller and his group come charging out of the gate quite effectively on the title tune with some high-powered tenor sax work. He shows a fluent neo-bopping style but with an obvious sense of melody and is joined by Kurt Rosenwinkel, who solos with a typically blurred note attack in a John Scofield-type style. Miller is equally impressive on "Swing La Bas Caisse" playing soprano sax. He has a full-bodied sound without either the shrill or metallic tone of some soprano saxmen and sounds Coltrane-influenced.
Rosenwinkel begins the track strumming on acoustic guitar, then plays rhythm and delivers a lyrical solo with clear and ringing notes. On the following tracks, "Cabeza de Vaca" and "Fall to Pieces," the other horns are introduced and the compositions seem to be a bit more fragmentary. The texture also changes producing just a hint of dissonance. The remainder of the compositions are divided between these two categories in which Miller's soprano or tenor sax is featured with Rosenwinkel's guitar to good effect on "Moon People" or "Now That I Own A TV," and edgier full ensemble tracks such as "War Con U.S.A." Trumpeter Bill Mahar is featured on "Rasher" and "Aqua Land," in which the band quotes both "Anthropology" and "Gingerbread Boy." Joel Miller incorporates digital feedback in the style of Jane Ira Bloom on a few tracks.
In a sense, the duality of Joel Miller's musical persona leaves one wanting more of one of these styles rather than both on the same album, but in sum it's a fine exposition of his talent.
Track Listing: Mandala, Swing La Bas Saisse, Cabeza de Vaca, Fell to Pieces, Shopping, War con U.S.A., After the Fight, Rasher, Moon People, Now That I Own A TV, Mandala Interlude, Aqua Land, Let's Go Shootin', Step Into My Office.
Personnel: Joel Miller, tenor and soprano sax, vocals, electronics; Bill Mahar, trumpet; Bruno Lamarche, tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Fraser Hollins, bass; Thom Gossage, drums; Kurt Rosenwinkel, electric and acoustic guitars.