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Dominic Miller: From Sting to ECM

Luca Muchetti By

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Dominic Miller's debut album for ECM, Silent Light, has all the qualities to become a sensation. After a career spanning nearly five decades during which he has lent his versatile artistry to the likes of Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Steve Winwood, Peter Gabriel, and Sting since 1993, Miller has released a very intimate and elegant quasi-solo album for Manfred Eicher's label. This record, the eleventh as a leader or co- leader, is a honest self-portrait in music, reflecting Miller's international upbringing and extensive travelling, through refined textures, colors and atmospheres.

All About Jazz: This album sounds like a rich diary of your musical journey: from your early days in Argentina up to your current life in France. Yet the instrumental set-up of the album is minimalistic: it's an almost- solo album. Can you explain this apparent contrast?

Dominic Miller: I always identified with Segovia when he said that a guitar is like a mini orchestra. Of course it would be easy to be more specific stylistically by employing instruments and sounds from all my influences but the whole point of this album was to try and create these moods using a small six stringed polyphonic instrument, a guitar. In addition, I wanted to fit in with the label's sound and production aesthetic so I kept it simple and ambiguous. Anyway, that's my excuse.

AAJ: Percussionist Miles Bould is the only other musician you wanted for these recording sessions. Do you think there's a link between this choice and the strong influence of latin music in the album?

DM: Miles was the right percussionist for this album for various reasons. I find his playing selfless and somehow transparent. It doesn't draw attention to itself and only enhances the music. Also, there were some tunes for which I felt that I needed something like a human pulse so I could dance around the beat with more freedom. I can't help hearing, playing and arranging music in a syncopated way which probably comes from my Argentine roots.

AAJ: Silent Light has also a strong live approach: no overdubs, no electric or electronic parts or patterns, unplugged instruments only, strings and wood. The sound itself is very smooth and pure... raw material. This choice puts the album in a sort of folk dimension. Do you think that this atmosphere has something to do with your identity as musician?

DM: I do agree. I guess I am kind of an old folky hippy growing up listening to a lot of Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Bert Jansch and many others. Then I was exposed to modern jazz and rock which was more electric and eclectic. But I always identified with the acoustic sound which speaks to me more. I like the community aspect of being able to reproduce music around a kitchen table or under a tree which isn't really practical or authentic with electric sound.

AAJ: In Silent Light there is a form of storytelling without words. Comparing this kind of work with what you usually do in studio with Sting, is your creative process different? How much is your music influenced by words, or by their absence?

DM: I believe strongly that instrumental music has a kind of narrative. I am very influenced by lyrics too, having worked with some incredible songwriters. I like to arrange my music in the same way... form, strong melody and arrangement. There's usually a theme or concept I try to narrate which can often be found in the title.

AAJ: There's a movie by Carlos Reygadas with the same title as that of your album. In this movie silence, together with light, plays a central role. Can you tell us something about the function of silence in your music?

DM: I believe what you don't say is as important as what you do say, and sometimes more. Silence and space are crucial in music, art, literature, food and just about anything. Miles Davis was one of the pioneers exploring space in modern music. I also believe that by creating space you make it possible to have a kind of interactive dialogue with the listener which, in turn, makes it a more inclusive experience.

AAJ: Is there a colour, an atmosphere, or a story that a guitar can't tell or describe?

DM: I haven't found one thus far. I can even make scary sounds on my guitar, with which I used to terrorise my sister when growing up.

AAJ: Is there another musical instrument you'd like to master?

DM: I wish I could play the piano. I marvel at how great pianists think and harmonise.

AAJ: Pat Metheny and Egberto Gismonti are two of your favorite artists on ECM: what's the lesson you learned from them?

DM: When I listen to them I feel they are communicating with me. I'm also inspired by their sense of harmony and by their skills as instrumentalists. But it's their total lack of ego which has made it possible for me to do what I do, enabling me to have a go. Same way as the Beatles made it possible for other musicians to write songs. The best musicians usually combine brilliance with generosity which Metheny and Gismonti do. It's almost like they are asking, "what do you think?"

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