Joel Miller

Swim

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MUSIC REVIEW BY John Kelman, All About Jazz

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LIVE REVIEW: OTTAWA JAZZ FESTIVAL
June 22: Joel Miller Quartet, Ninety Miles and The Fellowship Band - If the first night of the festival was only tangential in its relation to jazz, the second night was proof that the Ottawa Jazz Festival is committed to bringing top quality jazz to the big stage at Confederation Park; they couldn't have put together a better triple bill. Still, if Canadian saxophonist Joel Miller, the all-star Afro-Cuban Ninety Miles project and The Fellowship Band had more than enough in common to make it a winning combination, there were also plenty of differences that spoke to the breadth of the music and gave the audience more, perhaps, than it bargained for.

Winner of coveted Grand Prix Jazz Award at the 1997 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the city that the Maritime-born saxophonist has called home for nearly two decades, Miller has been releasing his own music since 1996. Since 2004, however, with his folk and African-influenced Mandala (Effendi), and the even more ambitious Tantramar (2008)?Miller's first crack into the American market with release on the co-op-style ArtistShare imprint?he's been slowly building a following and a discography of considerable merit, one that has brought together some of the cream of the Canadian crop, including bassist Fraser Hollins, drummer Thom Gossage and saxophonist (and now spouse) Christine Jensen, with notable non-Canucks like guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. What makes the just-released Swim (2012)?his first for Seattle's Origin Records?different? Well, for one, Miller has given some of his regular collaborators a rest, specifically Gossage, trumpeter Bill Mahar and saxophonist/clarinetist Bruno Lamarche; only Hollins remains, while this time Miller has recruited Halifax-born, longtime Montreal-based, but now Brooklyn-resident drummer Greg Ritchie, and San Diego-based pianist Geoffrey Keezer for a lean and mean quartet project.

Quartets are, of course, much easier and inexpensive to book, though finding a way to get these four busy musicians together must have been no small challenge?nailing down Keezer, in particular, who has been (amongst other things) busy in both the Storms/Nocturnes trio with vibraphonist Joe Locke and British saxophonist/clarinetist Tim Garland?last heard on 2011's superb VIA (Origin)?and, this year, back together with Locke in the positively incendiary Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Group, releasing the studio follow-up, Signing, and closing the six-year gap since its powerful debut, Live in Seattle (Origin, 2006).

The quartet's Ottawa show comes after a first-night engagement at The Rex in Toronto, and the group was already demonstrating the kind of chemistry that made Swim such an impressive record. Miller focused exclusively on music from the record?all originals, with the exception of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans' "Time of the Barracudas," from the trumpeter's largely (and unfairly) overlooked Quiet Nights (Columbia, 1962). Original music it may not have been, but Miller's quirky, yet effervescently swinging arrangement was so distinctive, so personal, that it was hard to distinguish it from his own writing.

In a quartet with absolutely no weak links--Keezer, an effortless wellspring of ideas, Hollins, a visceral combination of groove and unfailing lyricism, and Ritchie, a fluid player with eyes and ears clearly open to the music around him--Miller's occasional virtuosic flights were impressive, as was his upper register control at the start of his solo on the balladic "Drop Off"?so pure and clean that, with eyes closed, his tenor sounded more like a soprano.

The set came to a close with "Nos etoiles"--a tune that belies Miller's Quebecois home, instead evoking images of Midwestern plains a la guitarist Pat Metheny--and the idiosyncratic funk of "MarkAdamDrum." Compositional twists and turns, including the occasional tight knot, lent plenty of depth to Miller's music even as it provided plenty of space for the quartet to stretch out, with Ritchie's closing solo on Time of the Barrcudas an early highlight of a set that, while played on a marginally cooler day than the festival's opening night, was still hot and sweaty, with the sun beating down on the stage throughout the quartet's 70-minute set.








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