I have wanted to write on Miller for a long time. I first heard BTB at Winter Jazz Fest 2012 in one of those very WJF ways. My friend and I were squished into a Bleecker St. club for a 11 pm band that we knew and liked and we wanted to hear the 1 am band at the same venue. Somehow we lucked into seats all of sudden. Well, we weren’t going to leave just because we didn’t know the Midnight band, some outfit called Boom Tic Boom. I mean I’d seen Allison play but she wasn’t on my WJF short list…but sitting was. I remember telling my friend that since Jenny Scheinman and Myra Melford were in the group, that it it was worth hearing. So we skipped out on our plans to club hop and stayed. BTB was just Miller, Scheinman, Melford and Brad Jones and they blew the roof off the place. I don’t even remember what the 1 am band was anymore.
Here’s the link. Story below http://www.wsj.com/articles/otis-was-a-polar-bear-review-1459806137
Jazz has changed substantially in the past two decades, and the new sounds are best illustrated in bands led by drummers. The ensembles of percussion masters like Jeff Ballard, Tyshawn Sorey and Ches Smith offer spare and nuanced chamber music where the slightest cymbal shimmer is magnified by the austere compositions. The music of Allison Miller and her ensemble Boom Tic Boom runs counter to that trend. Her group has a razor-sharp precision that recalls classic drummer-led ensembles of 50 years ago—the music of Art Blakey, Art Taylor and Max Roach come to mind—but Ms. Miller’s band works from a diverse sonic palette that is unmistakably contemporary.
On Friday, Ms. Miller will release her latest recording, “Otis Was a Polar Bear” (The Royal Potato Family), with the group, and it’s that precision that unifies a range of sounds that might otherwise seem like a musical dilettante’s playlist. She is surrounded by a stellar cast of improvisers that includes clarinetist Ben Goldberg, cornetist Kirk Knuffke, pianist Myra Melford, violinist Jenny Scheinman and bassist Todd Sickafoose.
“Fuster,” the opening track, begins with a looping clarinet and harmonium duet that suggests a Middle Eastern and Pakistani musical merger; then a bassline kicks in and the music seamlessly shifts toward Afro-Cuban flavors. Mr. Goldberg and Ms. Scheinman trade striking solos over the big, catchy grooves. Another highlight is “Shimmer,” which begins by recalling the sunny propulsion of Horace Silver’s classic work for Blue Note Records, but soon morphs into a gentle mix of violin, piano, clarinet and cornet before settling into a cooler, wistful finish. The rapidly changing moods in Ms. Miller’s work are augmented by unique harmonies. The music always seems one false move away from a mess, but with Ms. Miller’s steady hands at the helm, the results are sublime.
Ms. Miller, who is 41 years old, was born in Texarkana, Texas, and grew up Olney, Md. When she was a teenager, Downbeat profiled her as an up-and-coming musician. After graduating from West Virginia University in 1996 she moved to New York, where she has become a leading drummer, working with dozens of jazz ensembles as well as singer-songwriters like Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco and Brandi Carlile. In addition, the Brooklyn-based drummer occasionally plays in the band on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and is a Jazz Ambassador on behalf of the State Department. What’s impressive isn’t just the range of gigs but how she melds all these experiences into her own music. In a promotional video for the new recording, she says that many of the pieces were inspired by the birth of her daughter two years ago. In contrast to “No Morphine No Lilies” (Royal Potato), the band’s 2013 release, where the episodic nature of the tunes came within the solos, here it is in the compositions.
Ms. Miller and Boom Tic Boom begin a five-week tour on Friday in Seattle. Their itinerary includes stops at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington. When she arrived in New York 20 years ago, jazz was engaged in a turf war between the institutions and the outsiders. It was often miscast as the traditionalists versus the innovators. That an eclectic band like Boom Tic Boom can play these settings now is a sure sign of jazz’s renewed artistic vitality.
Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.