Tantramar by saxophonist Joel Miller keeps reminding me of the lyrics to "Life is Grand" by the rock band Camper Van Beethoven: "And life is grand, And I will say this at the risk of falling from favor, With those of you who have appointed yourselves, To expect us to say something darker."
You see, Miller and company play such bright, life-affirming music, there is little room to say (or think) something darker.
Perhaps the closest comparison of style is to that of British jazzman Django Bates. Both bring humor and a light whimsical style to composing and presentation. Miller and his band Mandala formed in 2004 before releasing the self-titled Mandala (Efendi, 2006) with Kurt Rosenwinkel. The same working unit plays here with guest Colin Burnett on one track and the wordless vocals of Ameilia McMahon on four.
The disc kicks off with the Cascading and infectious "Hospital Loop," which is part Joni Mitchell's "In France They Kiss on Main Street" and part Crosby Stills Nash and Young's "Carry on." You guessed it, Miller is also Canadian. The track is deftly assembled as close to folk music that jazz can approach. Miller orchestrates his saxophone with that of Bruno Lamarche and Bill Mahar's trumpet for a mighty positive vibe. That pulse continues throughout the record. Miller isn't adverse to use of overdub or electronics, as he does on "Chickadee's Other Song" matching Amelia McMahon's vocal repetitions against a sampled black-capped chickadee and his own bird calling soprano saxophone. He washes electronic effects over the track "Anonymity" with the machine drumming of Thom Gossage, painting the track as a fanciful 21st century space ditty.
Miller seems to like brief snatches of sound and emotion. He adds a playful swirl of horns on the all-too short (2:19) "Aulochrome" and the funky "Big Tiny." The bluesy "Boogie Gaudet" is a great platform to hear Miller's saxophone. He plays with a bold clear tone, passionate without dramatics.
Tantramar is a fine treat for your ears.