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Dreambox Media: The Philadelphia Jazz Label


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Any fan of the great American music that is jazz is surely aware that the art form's history depended on the convergence of geography, individual talents, and inspiration. Cities such as New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York are synonymous with particular styles of jazz. One often overlooked city is Philadelphia, the birthplace and/or home to artists as diverse and influential as Pat Martino, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Lee Morgan, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Smith, Benny Golson, Grover Washington, Jr., John Coltrane and many more. Paying tribute to this tradition of jazz in Philadelphia, and providing a contemporary slate of first-rate jazz musicians, is Dreambox Media, a strictly Philadelphia jazz label.

Jim Miller, the founder and driving force behind Dreambox Media, is a performing jazz drummer, producer, Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Jazz History Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania, and advisory board member of JazzBridge.org and the Philadelphia Jazz Coalition. Miller has performed with preeminent artists including Anita O'Day, Larry Coryell, Tony Williams, Larry McKenna, Randy Brecker, Clark Terry, Ray Mantilla and Evelyn Simms; he has been honored with Philadelphia Magazine's award for Best of Philly Jazz Record Label (1999) and in 2013 received the Jazz Hero award, from the Jazz Journalists Association.

All About Jazz: What are the origins of Dreambox Media? Who was involved, and what was the initial conception of the label?

Jim Miller: I had a band called Reverie, I was on drums, Mark Knox on keyboards, Ed Yellen on saxophones, and Gerald Veasley on bass. We got some free studio time in New York, at a place called the Institute of Audio Research. We were pretty much guinea pigs for people taking a studio engineering class, but we ended up getting a master tape out of it. So anyway, we end up having this master tape, this is in 1980, we had the tape, and a band fund. We were a quartet, and a fifth of the share went into the band fund, where we could fix equipment, the van, whatever. So we had the money, and I said, "Let's just put this out ourselves." We had money actually saved up for a new van, but we put this first album out, and we made enough money for the van and another LP, and I wanted to do another one, because the band was evolving so quickly that I wanted to document it, plus keep our momentum going.

So initially, it was just a vanity label for my band. The second album, we actually did two pressings, about 1000 copies each, then we put out a live third album. I wanted to put out a live thing so people could really tell what we sounded like. Anyway, we'd amassed this database of reviewers and jazz writers, and at that point, the vocalist Suzanne Cloud asked to be on our label, and I hadn't even been thinking of it as a label, it was just a way to put Reverie stuff out. So she did an album called I Like It and she started spreading the word amongst the Philly jazz community. Pretty soon pianist Mark Kramer, Father John D'Amico, flautist Leslie Burrs, and vocalist Evelyn Simms, they all wanted to do things, so I thought "Wow, this is a label."

Meanwhile, we were still shopping our masters around, and I was learning more and more about the music business by the worse and worse deals that we were being offered, and still, in this do-it- yourself mode, I thought, "We have to treat everybody else the same way we want to be treated." So we came up with, I don't know if you'd call it a business model, but we didn't require that we own the masters. The artist still kept their masters, we didn't ask for any publishing split or money from sales at gigs, just a percentage of sales directly through the label, and that just paid the expenses. We wanted to treat everyone the same way the band wanted to be treated by these legitimate labels. It's kind of democratic and idealistic when you think about it—music by the musicians, for musicians, of musicians. In 2006-2008 it was hard with the digital thing, but even big labels were taking hits, the deals were getting even more predatory, and that affected us too, so now it's on life support again.

AAJ: Was it a strictly Philadelphia jazz label by choice?

JM: I wanted it to be regional. I was tired of looking at magazines when Philadelphia was rarely mentioned as a jazz city. But to me, being from Indianapolis, Philly seemed like a Mecca. For instance, on the radio you could find smooth jazz late night on the weekends in Indy, but when I came here the first time, I turned on the radio, and it was John Coltrane weekend, 72 straight hours of John Coltrane. I told the guys that night, I'm moving here, it seemed like a mecca to me.

AAJ: How do you find Dreambox Media artists?

JM: Primarily they came to us. Because of me being a working musician, and Suzanne Cloud constantly talking it up, lots of people knew me, and knew about the label, so all of a sudden, we got [several prominent Philadelphia jazz musicians], and all of these people wanted to be on the label. I didn't have to reach out to them, and the label gave opportunities for the projects I was working on. With Suzanne's first very political CD, and with word of mouth between musicians, as opposed to what the legitimate labels were doing, they [Dreambox Media artists] knew that if there was any money being made, they would see it.

AAJ: How does Dreambox Media compare to more traditional labels?

JM: We're like a middle man, this is completely not on the map. I just wanted to treat artists the way we wanted to be treated when we tried to get deals, and I think everyone on the label can relate to that. Sometimes they [traditional label] didn't even want half the publishing, they wanted all of it, they wanted to own your tunes. We just took that part of it, like we [Reverie] did with them, we took them a finished master, and then the label was supposed to come up with the artwork, but all of the recording time and all the musicians had been paid at that point. So I took that and ran with it to the point where I could say we don't want your publishing and we don't want the ownership of your masters. It's not a great business plan if you were in this to make money, but I just wanted to create a format where people could get their stuff out there.

AAJ: Is there a particular conception of jazz Dreambox Media artists might conform to?

JM: No smooth jazz, that was the one self-imposed rule. The stuff had to be improvisational and not background music. It can be anything from young folks who've dedicated themselves to this music already who just need a calling card to old heads who never got any respect or a chance to put anything out, plus the people I mentioned earlier who just wanted to be something original, to be what they want, instead of having some committee of non-musician sales experts dictating what they should play. That's pretty much the point, so we've got everything from really authentic traditional stuff, and then we've got avant-garde stuff, to solo piano CDs, duos, and big bands.

As a drummer, the only other thing for me was no drum machines, I wanted real human beings playing their instruments, interacting in real time. It had to sound live even if it was a studio recording, it had to sound like they really meant it. The only exception to that was Jef Lee Johnson, who would put out these one-man band projects, but he was actually playing everything, he was just overdubbing. I got some flak from that, but he's a genius, he was a genius, and I don't use that term lightly. He was the one exception, and the drum parts were so weird that no one could play them anyway, so it didn't bother me, because he was so brilliant.

AAJ: How does your role as a performing artist impact the label?

JM: Even if it's a studio recording, I want it to sound like they're playing together. I want to hear that they were actually communicating. If it sounds like you just phoned this in, or weren't listening to the other people, it's got to sound like a conversation or something. To me, that's what makes it human, other than that, it's just a bunch of notes.

AAJ: How does a local jazz label impact the Philadelphia scene?

JM: The label gave musicians an opportunity to put out something that wouldn't appear to be just a vanity project, and there is some validity in that. But, I'm always telling people, especially now, people who want to put out CDs, I'm saying, , "This is the most expensive business card you're ever going to have," and it is, even Miles Davis said it, that a recording is just an invitation to come see the band live.

One of the things that makes it unique here, and I've talked to a lot of people who agree, especially Mike Boone, the closeness of the Philly jazz scene, the musicians, and the dedicated fans, it's like a family. Of course, it's somewhat dysfunctional sometimes, but again, what family isn't?

But to be perfectly honest, I was always hoping for more community support, WRTI had always been supportive of course, and the distributor, North Country, but they got out of the physical CD thing right around the holidays last year. But there have been a couple of times when I thought we'd see a little bump from the public at large, and it just didn't happen, I'm talking about a label profile thing in , or a couple years ago, when we officially celebrated our 20th anniversary as Dreambox Media, we had a huge article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was a decent hook for them, but we got nothing. I was recognized for all this by the Jazz Journalist Association, I got the Jazz Hero award from the Philadelphia region, but there was no surge of interest in the label at all as a result of that, so I don't know what to think.

AAJ: What are some future projects for Dreambox Media?

JM: I really didn't think when this thing started that progress would be so accelerated. I mean, we didn't even have a web presence until 1997, and I do that myself. We saw the demise of LPs coming and we only switched to CDs by the fourth and last Reverie CD, then everything since then. But I didn't foresee the end of CDs so quickly. We're in a strange predicament, we still have to make CDs for reviews and airplay, radio stations still want CDs, and reviewers, some reviewers and jazz writers don't even have answering machines, let alone computers. We need some CDs for gig sales, which is where artists make back their investments, so, we still have to manufacture a number of CDs. Meanwhile, I've got to completely revamp the website, and research how to store all of the files we're going to have, because everything pre-2004, about half our catalogue, will have to be remastered with embedded ISRC codes so we have at least a fighting chance of tracking digital sales and airplay.

Everything post-2004 is already on iTunes, if the engineers on the particular projects put the ISRC codes on, but as this whole DIY thing becomes more involved, the whole point of this niche market is for artists to have any kind of shot. But basically, all I want to do now is keep learning to play the drums, and learn about this great indigenous American music, but I've spent too much time and energy on this thing to just abandon it now, so somehow, I'm going to revamp it.

AAJ: Any thoughts on the state of the music industry and the effect on contemporary artists?

JM: My band, Reverie , was very lucky because we got in on the tail end, apparently, of actual professional independent touring. I mean, we had gigs with signed contracts that actually paid money, with rooms of wildly varying quality provided, and these gigs would be one, two, three-nighters or even a week or two at a time. It was usually two or three shows a night, and we had enough material that we didn't repeat ourselves set-to-set or even night-to-night sometimes, which meant people kept coming back because they knew they wouldn't be hearing the same stuff!

We thought we were "in the trenches" back then, but it's vastly different from what's happening lately. When I talk to students who are the age I was then, a "tour" still involves a communal band van experience, but there the similarity ends...they do what we used to call "showcases," which was a different animal altogether; they only get to play three or four tunes because there are three or four other bands, in an actual establishment (if they're lucky) playing strictly for the door, or more commonly an underground network of "house parties," where there's voluntary contributions but the hosts feed you and let you crash there for the night, and then you move on to the next one.

It's beautiful in the sense of "original music will always find a way," but I'd love to see it return to the days of being able to actually eke out a living doing this and maybe it will if the economy improves and the hatchet men stop cutting music education funding from school budgets.

Also, regarding MP3 files...I've heard that some visionary people (Neil Young included) are working on a superior format, but at the present time it's kind of discouragingly pointless to spend time and money mixing stuff on ridiculously expensive state-of-the-art studio speakers, making sure the music sounds as good as it possibly can, only to know that down the line, it's going to be reduced to a tinny format to be played on tiny ear bud headphones turned up to eleven. I don't think it's a stretch to say that even cassettes sounded better than this! For jazz, anyway, all the warmth, bottom, and natural ambiance of the music is pretty much eliminated. Again, maybe the "next big thing" will truly be progress, sonically speaking,...I sincerely hope so.

The Chuck Anderson Trio Freefall 2010

Freefall is guitarist/composer Chuck Anderson's first release after an extended hiatus from performance due to ill health. However, it is a triumphant and welcome return to the contemporary straight-ahead jazz scene for Anderson and his newly assembled trio featuring bassist Eric Schreiber and drummer Ed Rick. Freefall consists of twelve original tracks, ten of which feature the trio and two solo guitar pieces.

The album effectively covers a wide breadth of the harmonic and emotive possibilities available in the tonal jazz idiom. From the exuberant, bright Lydian theme of "Flight," to the swaggering Mixolydian feel of "In A Misty Glow," and the dark, serpentine Locrian orientation of "Diablo's Dream," the trio genuinely captures and communicates the nature of each tune. The variety provides a fine overview of Anderson the composer.

Despite the breadth of the album, the depth to which Anderson and Schreiber explore each tune, driven by Rick's percussive backdrop, is the highlight. Though the trio possesses virtuosity in abundance, they never lose sight of the aesthetic sensibility that sets them apart from many other guitar trios. The nuanced communication between the players is clearly evident on tunes such as the blues-inflected "Double- Dippin,'" and a similar sensitivity to the musical material can be heard on the evocative waltz "The Enchanted Garden."

The production only helps to convey the message; the guitar tone is clear and crisp, the bass vibrant, the percussion packs a punch, and the balance between all three is ideal.

Freefall is a unique conception, given a sense of unity and cohesion by the trio's attention to each tune's inherent musicality, the communication between players, and the successful integration and incorporation of all three instruments as essential elements in the greater musical tapestry.

Mike Boone Old Head 2000

Mike Boone, a mainstay in the Philadelphia jazz scene, released Old Head, his first album for Dreambox Media, in 2000. The album features four standards and four original tunes, with arrangements by Boone and pianists Jason Shattil and Uri Caine. The core group on the recording is Boone on acoustic and electric bass, Jason Shattil on piano, and Byron Landham on drums. Five tracks are augmented with John Swana on trumpet or flugelhorn, while vocalist Brenda Smith, pianist Uri Caine, guitarist Gregory Davis, and percussionist Rich Posmontier appear on one track each.

Old Head opens with a duet rendition of the Gershwin classic "I Got Rhythm" performed by Boone and singer Brenda Smith. It serves as a declaration, as Boone's deft bass playing thumps along as solid as any drummer, playing the changes so adeptly that one forgets there are no chordal instruments in the arrangement. It's a feat he repeats with nearly every bass solo on the album.

The next standard, "Stella By Starlight," features an intro in 6/8 with piano accompanying the theme on a bowed bass, before launching into a quartet setting of the tune with solos by Swana, Boone, and the thunderous drumming of Landham taking center stage.

The original "Old Head" proceeds as a hard bop tune with a catchy melody, driven by sparse piano comping, drum accentuations, and an alternation of walking bass lines and groovy bass motifs. "Rest in Peace," the final track and another Boone composition, departs from the prior tracks by incorporating synth, guitar, and percussion with the quartet (featuring Boone on electric bass) for a funk and R&B inspired finale.

Boone's playing is excellent, always dynamic, striking a balance between melodic and harmonic duties. As he demonstrates through two duets, jazz trio and quartet settings, and electric instrumentation, Mike Boone can do it all.

Tyrone Brown String Ensemble Moon of the Falling Leaves 2008

Moon of the Falling Leaves is one of five albums Tyrone Brown has released with Dreambox Media, and the third of his String Ensemble. Nominally a sextet, the ensemble consists of two violins (John Blackwell and Melissa Locati), two violas Beth Dzwil and Michael Ireland), Ron Lipscomb on cello, Tyrone Brown on bass, and drummer Craig McIver. There are several appearances by vibraphonist Randy Sutin, as well as contributions by drummer Jim Miller, percussionists William "Duke" Wilson and Daoud Shaw, and poet Pharalyn Dove. There are nine original tracks, plus John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."

This album features beautifully crafted string arrangements, contrapuntal writing, diverse percussion, and exquisitely tasteful solos. The original tunes feature lyrical melodies, captivating arrangements, and interesting song forms. The contrast between string sextet, drum set, percussion, and vibraphone is perfectly balanced and faithfully captured and conveyed in the recording.

The title track is an ideal introduction to the album, beginning with a 4/4 theme that stands in contrast to a B theme in 6/8. During the solos, the strings frame the contrasting sections, and the solos stand out, particularly Sutin's initial vibraphone solo.

"Matador" is a flamenco-inspired piece, beginning with a virtuosic bass solo mimicking the idiom of the classical guitar. A bass ostinato is joined by drums, percussion, and floating vibraphone riffing to support the solo string instruments, which soon give way to another Sutin solo.

Coltrane's "Giant Steps" sounds much as expected, with the strings playing the theme's melody and harmony in soli. However, the solo sections feature a severe reduction in texture to facilitate simultaneous improvisation between two instruments at a time.

"Not Yet Night" is a uniquely beautiful composition, beginning with a pedal-point cello ostinato, with a gradually growing instrumentation. A middle section with a distinctly Latin feel is the vehicle for alternating vibraphone and bass solos, accompanied by strings, hand percussion, and drum set.

Tyrone Brown is renowned as a jazz bassist, but this offering confirms that he is also an adroit composer, arranger, and singularly creative mind.

Suzanne Cloud With A Little Help From My Friends 1995

Suzanne Cloud's 1995 release, With A Little Help From My Friends, is an amalgamation of Philly's finest jazz players performing jazz classics and originals, with a healthy dose of funk, dissonance, biting satire, and moral outrage. Six of the eleven tracks are originals, and almost all of the lyrics are Cloud's own compositions.

Cloud's voice ranges from melodic oration and soulful wails to sultry moans and mockingly saccharine excess, effects aided by her powerful projection, smooth glissandi, and effortless ornamentation.

The musicians throughout are top notch. Appearing on this album are keyboardist Mark Knox; pianists Marty Mellinger, Eddie Green, and Ron Thomas; bassists Gerald Veasley, Chico Huff, Craig Thomas, Steve Varner, Tyrone Brown and Darryl Hall; guitarist Jef Lee Johnson; drummer Jim Miller; with horns by Dale DeVoe, Denis DiBlasio, EJ Yellen, Dave DePalma, Dave Buffington, Ben Schachter; synthesizer by Jeff Bichaylo; and percussion by Adam Guthrie.

In addition to the careful instrumentatios, Cloud incorporates samples from sources as diverse as ABC, NBC, and C-Span on "Below the Beltway" to "It Came from Outer Space" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in "Watch the Skies."

Despite the variety of performers and sound effects, With a Little Help From My Friends flows easily from track to track. The many highlights include the horn arrangements in the funky "Talk Radio," Gerald Veasley's bass playing on "Watch the Skies," and Jef Lee Johnson's always virtuosic, at times pianistic, and often Hendrix-esque guitar work on the Lennon-McCartney title track and Cloud's original, "A Lullaby, Dear Monk."

And finally, Cloud's adept work in more straight-ahead jazz idioms on tunes like Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" and Steve Allen's "Impossible," while her own satirical lounge tune, "Collagen Lips," deserves mention.

This is a unique album characterized by exceptional musicianship, a fondness for and mastery of contemporary and traditional jazz idioms, and honest expressions of serious concerns through humorous, yet sometimes painfully true, lyrics.

Denis DiBlasio/Jim McFalls Caravan: The Chordless Project 2010

Caravan features seven live-recordings from the quartet of Denis DiBlasio on baritone sax and flute, trombonist Jim McFalls, bassist Steve Varner, and drummer Jim Miller. As the title The Chordless Project suggests, there are no chordal instruments on the album, and the harmony is primarily derived from Varner's walking bass lines and the horn writing. The tracks presented include three originals, two jazz standards, and two utterly unexpected pieces from the public domain.

Of the originals, "Joe's Vacation" is the most striking, juxtaposing a Caribbean rhythmic feel with a boogie-esque bass line, laying the foundations for fine soloing by McFalls and DiBlasio. "Sugar Buzz" is written in a very different vein, essentially an up-tempo bop tune highlighted by Miller's drum solo and DiBlasio's scat singing—which, it seems, could only result from a severe sugar buzz.

The interpretations of "Jingle Bells" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," both a bit of a surprise to find on a modern jazz album, bring an unforeseen depth and charm to both tunes. The band finds subtleties of rhythm and harmony, transforming both pieces into fine vehicles for sophisticated improvisation.

Juan Tizol's "Caravan" features intriguing interplay between ostinato flute figures and the trombone melody. DiBlasio's flute solos are no less impressive than his sax playing, and the timbre of the flute nicely melds with the atmosphere of the tune.

DiBlasio and McFalls deliver with The Chordless Project. The instrumentation and arrangements are done masterfully, and at no point is the piano missed. In fact, the limitations the players placed on themselves harmonically allowed the derivation of subtle sonic pleasures from even the most familiar and unlikely tunes.

Steve Giordano's Spacetet Timeline 2008

Timeline is the first album on Dreambox Media for guitarist Steve Giordano and his Spacetet. Joining Giordano are Peter Cobb on alto sax, Bob Meashey on trumpet and flugelhorn, and a rhythm section of acoustic bassist Brian Howell and drummer/percussionist John Mosemann. Giordano also plays piano on one piece, "With Love." Five of the eight tracks are original compositions by Giordano.

The overall affect of the album is of wide-open space, arresting percussive timbres, and an understated aesthetic that urges the listener to simply enjoy the ride. Often, particularly with the guitar solos, there is an effect of the reverb-laden guitar "emerging" from the musical textures.

Freddie Hubbard's "Intrepid Fox" is one of the album's more driving tunes, effectively displaying Giordano's guitar playing, juxtaposing sustained chords, fast comping, and trills supporting the fine solos by Cobb and Meashey.

"Stella by Starlight" gradually builds from a solo guitar to the full band, with the texture continually thickening as each instrumental part becomes more involved. Mosemann's cymbal work is especially notable, as is his utilization of the myriad timbral possibilities of the drum set.

Of the original composition, "Fantasia" and "Villino Anna" are particularly striking. Both are Latin-influenced, being a bossa and a samba, respectively. Giordano's guitar style is especially well-suited to these styles, as is Mosemann's drum and percussion sensibility. "Villino Anna" may be the best performance on the album, with rhythmic interest as a 6/4 samba, lovely horn arrangements interspersed between the solo sections, an evolution into an upbeat Latin theme, and some of the most inspired soloing on the album.

On Timeline, the Spacetet makes excellent use of space, texture, and timbre in creating a musical atmosphere conducive to the free exchange between the musicians. The percussive flavors, Giordano's mastery of the guitar as the sole harmonic instrument, and particularly Cobb's soloing are highlights throughout.

Larry McKenna It Might As Well Be Spring 2000

Tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna is one of the giants of the Philadelphia jazz scene, having performed with artists including Woody Herman, Michel Legrand and Frank Sinatra. In this spring-inspired showcase, McKenna— along with pianist Jason Shatill, bassist Pete Colangelo, and drummer Jim Schade—offer their take on eleven jazz standards.

It Might As Well Be Spring can be characterized as a tastefully mellow and relaxed journey through some familiar tunes. McKenna's playing is expressive, his tone smooth as silk, and his improvisations well crafted. He often does not ask much of his accompanists, but they rise to the occasion when called upon.

The album is ballad heavy, with many relaxed tunes, but the final six tracks really come alive with a variety of rhythmic styles, tempi, and contributions from Shatill and Colangelo.

"One Morning in May" is in a spritely 6/8, lyrical, ever-reaching upward. The melody is beautifully represented, and McKenna's solo is a perfect example of a spontaneously composed alternate melody. "You Must Believe in Spring" carries the momentum further, played with a Latin feel that complements the wide leaps of the melody, and solos that let the entire band shine.

"How About You," an arresting moment on the album, is a lively medium tempo swing that sees the band really come alive. Over a grooving walking bass, music rides on McKenna's smooth sax lines, which gives way to maybe the finest piano and bass solos on the album. Before returning to the theme drummer Jim Schade trades fours with McKenna and Colangelo, the only such showcase on the album.

"I'll Remember April" is another great example of the band functioning as one expressive entity, with the rhythm section sounding energized, pulsing along, accommodating McKenna's improvisations. Shatill's solo is also a gem, essentially an entire conversation and debate between the pianist's left and right hands.

Monkadelphia Crepuscule 2010

Crepuscule is the second album from the Monk-ophile quintet, Monkadelphia. With Chris Farr on tenor sax, Tony Miceli on vibes, pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Micah Jones and drummer Jim Miller, the band devotes its exceptional talent to exploring the repertoire of Thelonious Monk. Crepuscule consists of eleven tracks, all Monk compositions arranged by Monkadelphia.

Though all are more than capable musicians, Tony Miceli and Tom Lawton consistently stand out as soloists on the album, playing off each other and the rhythm section. "Bright Mississippi" is a great example of this when, following an extraordinary vibes solo, Farr echoes it flawlessly before developing his own solo. Jim Miller's percussion skills are also on display as he trades fours with the soloists before the restatement of the head.

"Green Chimneys" is an especially attractive tune, offering a lovely lyrical tenor sax solo over the roll-driven rhythm provided by Miller. During the vibes solo, Jones and Miller are playing so tight that they sound as one instrument, which is later joined by Tom Lawton's piano comping, and later his own blues-inflected solo.

"Bye-ya" ends the record with one last Monk tune to linger in the mind. The funky theme is introduced with a call by the piano and sax, the vibes and drums then provide the response. Lawton's playing is notable, as is the bass solo by Jones, both of which are bolstered by Miller's evocation of a range of rhythmic feels throughout.

Crepuscule is a fine collection of interesting Monk tunes by an exceptional group of musicians. Each player is featured in extensive solos, the recording and mix is crystal clear, and Monkadelphia certainly succeeds in showcasing why Monk the composer was so integral to the evolution of jazz.

Jim Miller A Brief History of Miller Time 2008

A Brief History of Miller Time is a far from exhaustive sampling of Dreambox Media owner Jim Miller's career as a premiere jazz drummer. The compilation covers a 24-year span and includes performances with guitarist Jef Lee Johnson; sax players Ron Kerber, Denis DiBlasio, Umar A. Raheem, E.J. Yellen, Chris Farr and Ben Schachter; pianists Jim Ridl, Eddie Green, Tom Lawton, Bob Cohen and Mark Knox; bassists Steve Varner, Tyrone Brown, Micah Jones, Darryl Hall, Kevin McConnell and Gerald Veasley; trumpeter George Rabbai; vocalists Suzanne Cloud and Evelyn Simms; marimba players Randy Sutin (also playing vibes) and Dean Witten; and vibraphonist Tony Miceli.

Seven of the nine tracks are previously unissued or appearing for the first time on CD, while the remaining are available on Dreambox Media releases by Tyrone Brown and Suzanne Cloud. Of the seven, three are from the jazz repertoire and four are original compositions.

As the album covers so much material with myriad elite artists, there is much to listen for. Particularly interesting to hear is Jef Lee Johnson soloing in the jazz idiom on, guitar and bass, on "Oleo" and "Water Dreams" respectively. Miller covers a variety of styles as a percussionist from the thunderous attack of "High Point" to the timbral ranges of "Lift Every Voice" and "Rhino." Stylistically, A Brief History of Miller Time offers tracks from the straight-ahead jazz genre of "By Myself" to the synth-based and funk/ fusion-heavy "Fair Tonight."

Monkadelphia's "Boo Boo's Birthday" features outstanding vibes solos from Miceli, complemented by Micah Jones' sturdy bass lines. Miller's own "High Point" and DiBlasio's "Rhino" both feature superb solos and instrumental acumen over minimalist compositions marked by ostinatos and the timbral interests of the baritone sax and marimba.

This album is a great compilation of Jim Miller's artistic offerings, as well as an overview of some of the best musician's Philadelphia and Dreambox Media have to offer.

Jim Ridl Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works 2005

Your Cheatin' Heart is a collection of seven tunes from pianist Jim Ridl, in a variety of settings from trio to sextet. Ridl is joined by soprano saxophonist Ron Kerber, vocalist JD Walter, bassist Steve Varner, drummer Jim Miller, with guitar and mandolin contributions from Jef Lee Johnson. Four of the seven tracks are Ridl originals.

The album begins with a trio rendition of Hank Williams; "My Cheatin' Heart," with Ridl's playing transforming the tune into a soulful, blues-inflected jazz tune. This is the only trio piece on the album, but with Miller's solid rhythm, Ridl and Varner shine throughout, fully realizing the possibilities of a trio instrumentation.

"Grazed By Light" augments the trio with JD Walter's singing and Ron Kerber's saxophone. The tune is introduced with a lovely solo piano statement, which gives way to the restatement of the melody by Kerber and Walter in unison. Varner provides a captivating bass line, over which the soloists extemporize in breathtaking fashion. This track is beautifully performed, as well as being the album's best example of Ridl's compositional skills.

Jef Lee Johnson appears twice, playing mandolin on the classic "Tennessee Waltz" and guitar on Juan Tizol's "Caravan." The mandolin adds a remarkable dimension to the former, perfectly complimenting the sounds of the bass glissandi and Walter's vocalizations. "Caravan" is a chaotic yet satisfying, a tear through an old tune highlighted by Johnson's solos and riffing, and Ridl's adept staccato playing.

With the unexpected folk tunes, variety of instrumentation, and sheer prowess of the performers, Your Cheatin' Heart is a pleasure to hear. The production quality is great, emphasizing the distinct, yet beautifully blended timbres of the traditional jazz instruments with the mandolin, overdrive-laden guitar, and Walter's smooth and subtle scat singing.

Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound Ceremonies of Forgiveness 2006

Ceremonies of Forgiveness is a monumental project by composer Bobby Zankel and his fourteen-piece big band. The horn section consists of trumpeters John Swana, Patrick Hughes and Bart Miltenberger; trombonists Larry Toft and Dave Champion; sax players Daniel T. Peterson, Elliot Levin (also playing flute), Brian Rodgers, Dan Scofield and Zankel; with a rhythm section of guitarist Rick Iannacone}}, pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Dylan Thomas and drummer Craig McIver.

The album is divided into seven tracks, with three of the four compositions extending to two tracks each. Zankel is the sole composer and arranger, though he successfully found space for eleven of the fourteen musicians involved to take solos.

At times, Ceremonies of Forgiveness feels like a sonic assault, but those moments always resolve into a greater order, bringing a sense of logic and perspective to the listener's experience. The often dissonant melodies lattice with the supporting horn parts, building an ever more complex, constantly evolving musical architecture.

"Choose Hope" exemplifies all of the above: at fourteen minutes, the through-composed tune constantly modifies its main theme, pitting trumpets and saxophones against the exclamations of the trombones, creating contrasts from section to section, and leaving individual improvisers to navigate distinct musical landscapes. Toft's deft trombone solo is especially notable, before the return to the evolved theme.

"Ndura—The Forest is our Father and Mother" thumps along with an undeniable attitude, with flitting saxophones trilling around riffing trombones and distorted guitar lines. The intensity builds through the solos, leading to Iannacone's dissonant improvisation, tempered by the order of the horns. "Part 2" introduces a Latin feel beneath the barrage of horns, the flute melody floating above it all. One of the finest points on the album occurs when Zankel and McIver simultaneously depart into furious improvisations, reconvening just in time to join the rest of the band.

Each track has its moments, and the soloists take their limited opportunities to add to the greater musical effect. The arrangements and performance are tight, and the end result is the unified sound of fourteen musicians acting as one entity to bring Zankel's ideas to fruition.


Tracks: Princess of the Nile; In a Misty Glow; Mystique; Flight; Song for Coreen; Exit Blues; The Enchanted Garden; Double Dippin'; Chanson; Freefall; From the Heart; Diablo's Dream.

Personnel: Chuck Anderson: guitar; Eric Schreiber: bass; Ed Rick: drums.

Old Head

Tracks: I Got Rhythm; For Mingus and Jaco; Stella by Starlight; Alone Together; Up Jumped Spring; Old Head (for Arthur Harper); Apocalyptic Interlude #1/Bluzeneph; Rest in Peace.

Personnel: Mike Boone: acoustic and electric bass; Brenda Smith: vocals (1); John Swana: trumpet and flugelhorn (2, 3, 5, 6, 8); Jason Shattil: piano and synth; Byron Landham: drums; Uri Caine: piano (7); Greg Davis: guitar (8); Rich Posmontier: percussion (8).

Moon of the Falling Leaves

Tracks: Moon of the Falling Leaves; A Prayer for Healing; Blues 4 Pair Extraordinary; Matador; Out of Darkness; Not Yet Night; Giant Steps; USQ; The McCoy; Such is Autumn.

Personnel: Tyrone Brown: acoustic and electric bass; John Blake: violin; Melissa Locati: violin; Beth Dzwil: viola; Michael Ireland: viola; Ron Lipscomb: cello; Craig McIver: drums; Randy Sutin: vibraphone (1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10); Jim Miller: drums (4, 8); Pheralyn Dove: poet (10); William "Duke" Wilson: percussion (2, 6, 10); Daoud Shaw: percussion (1).

With A Little Help From My Friends

Tracks: Talk Radio; With a Little Help From My Friends; Bolivia; Below the Beltway; I'm All Smiles; Hey Kenny, Gee; ..."a lullaby, dear Monk."; Collagen Lips; Impossible; Watch the Skies; For Tomorrow.

Personnel: Suzanne Cloud: vocals; Mark Knox: keyboards (1, 10); Gerald Veasley: bass (1, 10); Jim Miller: drums; Dale DeVoe: trombone (1, 8); Denis DiBlasio: baritone sax (1); EJ Yellen: soprano sax (1, 10); Jef Lee Johnson: guitar and bass (2, 3, 4, 6, 7); Chico Huff: bass (3, 7); Dave DePalma: sax (3, 8); Dave Buffington: trumpet (3, 8); Ben Schachter: soprano sax (4 & 6); Craig Thomas: bass (5); Jeff Bichaylo: synthesizer (6); Adam Guth: percussion (6); Marty Mellinger: piano (8); Steve Varner: bass (8); Eddie Green: piano (9); Tyrone Brown: bass (9); Ron Thomas: piano (11); Darryl Hall: bass (11).


Tracks: Rapid Transit; Jingle Bells; Caravan; When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again; I Love You: Joe's Vacation; Sugar Buzz.

Personnel: Denis DiBlasio: baritone saxophone, flute and scat singing; Jim McFalls: trombone; Steve Varner: bass; Jim Miller; drums.


Tracks: Delores Street; Riverflow; Intrepid Fox; Summer Waltz; Fantasia; Stella by Starlight; With Love; Villino Anna.

Personnel: Steve Giordano: electric and nylon guitar and piano; Peter Cobb: alto sax; Brian Howell: acoustic bass; Bob Meashey: trumpet and flugelhorn; John Mosemann: drums and percussion.

It Might As Well Be Spring

Tracks: Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most; Make Me Rainbows; So Many Stars; April Showers; It Might As Well Be Spring; One Morning in May; You Must Believe in Spring; Skylark; How About You; I'll Remember April; Spring is Here.

Personnel: Larry McKenna: tenor saxophone; Jason Shatill: piano; Pete Colangelo: bass; Jim Schade: drums.


Tracks: Bemsha Swing; Bright Mississippi; Crepuscule with Nellie; Green Chimneys; Eronel; Humph; Reflections; Skippy; Played Twice; Let's Call This; Bye-ya.

Personnel: Chris Farr: tenor sax; Tony Miceli: vibes; Tom Lawton: piano; Micah Jones: bass; Jim Miller: drums.

A Brief History of Miller Time

Tracks: Oleo; High Point; Lift Every Voice; Boo Boo's Birthday; Rhino; Below the Beltway; By Myself; Fair Tonight; Water Dreams.

Personnel: Jim Miller: drums; Jef Lee Johnson: guitar (1, 6) and bass (6, 9); Ron Kerber: soprano sax (1); Jim Ridl: piano (1, 5); Steve Varner: bass (1); Tyrone Brown: bass (2, 3); Denis DiBlasio: baritone sax (2, 5); Umar A. Raheem: soprano sax (2); Randy Sutin: marimba (2) and vibes (3); E.J. Yellen: tenor and soprano sax (2, 8, 9); Eddie Green: piano (3); Chris Farr: tenor sax (4); Micah Jones: bass (4); Tom Lawton: piano (4); Tony Miceli: vibes (4); Darryl Hall: bass (5); George Rabbai: trumpet (5); Dean Witten: marimba (5): Suzanne Cloud: vocal (6); Ben Schachter: bass (6); Evelyn Simms: vocal (7); Bob Cohen: piano (7); Kevin McConnell: bass (7); Mark Knox: keyboards (8, 9); Gerald Veasley: bass (8, 9)

Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works

Tracks: Your Cheatin' Heart; Grazed by Light: Solo Prelude; Grazed by Light: Group; Tennessee Waltz; Caravan; Antiphon (Tri Vulti Pacis); "Smile," Said the Drum.

Personnel: Jim Ridl: piano; Ron Kerber: soprano saxophone; JD Walter: vocals; Steve Varner: bass; Jim Miller: drums; Jef Lee Johnson: guitar (5) and mandolin (4).

Ceremonies of Forgiveness

Tracks: Choose Hope; Ndura—The Forest is our Father and Mother: Part 1; Ndura—The Forest is our Father and Mother: Part 2; Infinite Potential of a Single Moment: Part 1; Infinite Potential of a Single Moment: Part 2; Ceremonies of Forgiveness: Part 1; Ceremonies of Forgiveness: Part 2.

Personnel: Bobby Zankel: alto sax; John Swana: trumpet; Patrick Hughes: trumpet; Bart Miltenberger: trumpet; Larry Toft: trombone; Dave Champion: trombone; Daniel Peterson: alto saxophone; Elliot Levin: tenor sax and flute; Brian Rodgers: tenor sax; Dan Scofield: baritone saxophone; Rick Iannacone: guitar; Tom Lawton: piano; Dylan Taylor: bass; Craig McIver: drums.

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