Allison Miller has been a busy member of the New York jazz scene for the past eight years, touring and/or recording with notable leaders from jazz as well as folk and pop music worlds, including Marty Ehrlich, Kitty Margolis, and Natalie Merchant.
After some thirty recordings under her belt as a sidewoman, 5 am Stroll marks her debut as a leader. It's not necessarily overdue, because all that busy side work has honed her chopsand compositional skills. She's joined on this studio adventure by pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ray Drummond, tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew and alto saxophonist Steve Wilson (also on alto flute). It features eight originals and a thoughtful update of "Evidence."
The title track is an up-tempo call-to-arms with Wilson setting its somewhat fevered melodic agenda. This boppish burner has more than a hint of Latin clave sneaking into Barth's comping. Miller shows from the start what a fine drummer she is, always in the pocket and adding tasteful accents and solos without excess. "Wichita Falls," with piano and both saxophones prominent, is a bit more expansive and restrained. It was built from the melodic lilt with which Miller's midwestern grandfather said the words "Wichita Falls." It works.
Miller's take on "Evidence" is interesting from her repetitive bass drum anchoring rhythm to the angular, stop-time approach the ensemble often takes. Barth's keyboard is particularly keen here as they discover new elements to celebrate within Monk.
Her other originalsthe somewhat mournful "Theme" and "Shadow's Reflection" (the latter written after 9/11), "Catnip" (you can envision her two cats chasing each other and getting into nonstop mischief), the funky "Miriam's Shuffle," and the Monkish "1RS" (named for a nasty former apartment) also are quite creative. Miller's playing is solid and versatile. Her writing is also fine indeed.