No, Cercie Miller isn’t another aspiring Jazz singer (something I half–expect when someone asks me to review a CD by a female–led group); she’s a saxophonist, and a damn good one too. Unlike baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, whose marvelous album, Swing Low, we reviewed a couple of months ago, Miller bounces merrily all over the map, playing alto on half a dozen numbers, tenor on two, soprano on “Blue Vistas” and sharing the podium on three tunes (recorded in concert) with her good friend, the nimble, fleet–fingered trumpeter Tiger Okoshi. According to the liner notes, Miller enhanced her sound under Joe Allard at the New England Conservatory, and he deserves applause for a job well done — she displays an attractive, well–rounded tone on all three instruments. While comparisons are made to Benny Carter and Pony Poindexter, they somehow escape me. Miller has a sound all her own, and a keen, articulate point of view to go with it. She’s also a respectable writer, a talent best exemplified in the saucy “Night I Met Eddie Palmieri” (who, she says, had some nice things to say about her playing, hence the musical accolade). Miller also wrote “Blue Vistas,” “Wake Up Call,” the Scottish–flavored “Southerland’s Muse” (for her grandfather, Clarence) and “Dedication” — each of which is exemplary — while bassist Clark charted “Sister of Brotherly Love” and drummer Savine “Near Elm.” Two well–known Jazz compositions — Richard Carpenter’s “Walkin’,” Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” — close the session, with Miller’s warm–blooded tenor especially seductive on the latter. Okoshi amplifies the quartet on “Wake Up Call,” “Eddie Palmieri” and “Walkin’,” and makes a forceful impression every time. Also making a notable impression is pianist Tim Ray whose solos are consistently sharp and in the pocket. Miller has kept the group together for more than a dozen years, and the advantages of such a long and close association are clear on every number, expressed in a remarkable tightness that often approaches telepathic. In reading the liners, I found that Miller and I have at least one thing in common — we both grew up in Washington, D.C. As far as I can see, that’s where we part company. I got the looks, she got the talent. (Actually, she got the looks too.) Talent she definitely has, in abundance, an assertion we hope you might endeavor to verify by granting Blue Vistas an audition.
Track listing: Blue Vistas; Sister of Brotherly Love; Wake Up Call; Near Elm; Southerland’s Music; The Night I Met Eddie Palmieri; Dedication; Walkin’; Mood Indigo (58:46).
Cercie Miller, saxophones; Tim Ray, piano; David Clark, bass; Bob Savine, drums. Special guest
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