Some jazz musicians dare you to follow them to the rarefied realm of their imagination, where you might discover paradise, or you might get lost in a forest of abstraction. Allison Miller
says, "Hey, let's take a ride!" then revs the engine and takes you on a grand tour of a carnival of sounds. A masterful jazz drummer and composer, Miller has also performed with Natalie Merchant
, Ani DiFranco
, and Brandi Carlile, among others, and she brings a rock musician's aim to please, plus a jazz artist's technique and the ability to snake-charm endless surprises from her music. These talents are on ripe display on her band Boom Tic Boom's new full-length, Glitter Wolf
, which bursts with propulsive rhythms and an irresistible sense of fun.
Though Miller wrote all the music and put her name front and center, Glitter Wolf
always has the sound of an ensemble, showcasing the unique voice of each band member while anchoring their flights of improvisation in artfully structured compositions. Throughout, the album is defined by strong melodic lines that would be catchy if they didn't shape-shift so nimbly. The unconventional instrumentationfeaturing Jenny Scheinman
on violin, Kirk Knuffke
on cornet, Ben Goldberg
on clarinet and contra alto clarinet, Myra Melford
on piano and harmonium, Todd Sickafoose
on bass, and Miller herself on vibraphone and celeste as well as drumscreates a wonderfully warm, rich sound with an distinctly Americana feel.
"Congratulations and Condolences" makes a bold opening statement, with winds and violin setting the melodic foundation, then Myra Melford delivering a driving piano solo that manages to sound both angular and buoyant. A listener untrailed in music theory can tell that there's something off-kilter about Melford's harmonic sense, shades of dissonance that hint at the darker currents of life (in keeping with the song title). But it flies above a sonic landscape that's soaked in sunshine. That encapsulates the spirit of Glitter Wolf
. There's plenty of substance here for savvy listenersbut without the gloom or pedantry that weighs down some "serious" jazz.
Each song offers its own distinct pleasuresthe textural interplay between bass and violin on "ZevThe Phoenix," the shimmering piano on "White Wolf," the breezy exotica of "Malaga," the syncopated bass clarinet that jake-walks through "The Ride," and the Dixieland-through-a-funhouse-mirror of "Welcome Hotel."
It all comes to a joyful conclusion on the title track, which climaxes with a burst of Latin-flavored percussion, fattened up by guest drummer David Flores
, then amplified and disrupted by frenetic swirl of horns, and finally deconstructed in a crunch of violin, leaving the listener happily bemused. In all, Glitter Wolf
lives up to its name, showcasing Miller's powerful chops and plenty of magic.
Congratulations and Condolences; The Ride; Malaga; Zev - The Phoenix; Daughter and Sun; White Wolf; Welcome Hotel; Vine and Vein; Glitter Wolf; Valley of the Giants.
Allison Miller: drums, vibes, celeste; Myra Melford: piano; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Ben Goldberg: clarinet, contra alto clarinet; Todd Sickafoose: bass.