Drummer Allison Miller Releases Second Solo Leader CD, BOOM TIC BOOM. Creative Trio Performs Music composed for and Inspired by Important Women in the Drummer/Composer’s Life.
“Some of my closest friends are extremely smart and powerful women,” Miller says. “I can’t stress enough the importance of this community. There’ve been several women who’ve really helped me out in my career. I hope that I do the same for other women in the musical community.”
The example that Miller sets on BOOM TIC BOOM is that of a powerhouse drummer with an unerring sense of swing and a moving melodicism; an inventive composer with a gift for memorable tunes that leave ample space for bright improvisations; and a bandleader who ably marries these pieces with the right collaborators to breathe life into them. Here, those collaborators are pianist/composer Myra Melford; longtime collaborator Todd Sickafoose on bass; and guest violinist Jenny Scheinman on one track. Half of the album is comprised of original pieces penned by Miller during a one-month break from the road during the summer of 2008. The diversity of influences evident in the music belies the short time span in which it was written but is reflective of the wealth of musical experience that makes up Miller’s resume.
Raised in the Washington D.C. area, Miller began playing the drums at the age of ten and was featured in Downbeat Magazine’s “Up and Coming” section in 1991. Five years later, after graduating from West Virginia University she moved to New York City to pursue what has became a fruitful career as a freelance drummer. Miller’s talents have landed her gigs in the mainstream music world, with artists like Natalie Merchant, Ani DiFranco, and most recently, singer Brandi Carlile; and her jazz skills have been embraced by everyone from avant-garde saxophonist Marty Ehrlich to organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith, with a wide range of leaders in between, including Steven Bernstein, Kenny Barron, Erik Friedlander, Mark Helias, Ray Drummond, Peter Bernstein, Sheila Jordan, George Garzone, Mike Stern, Rachel Z, Kevin Mahogany, Bruce Barth, Mark Soskin, and Harvie S. She also leads or co-leads several bands, including EMMA, with singer/songwriter Erin McKeown; TILT, with pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Jon Evans; and Agrazing Maze, with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Enrique Haneine, and bassist Carlo DeRosa. Miller has also been recognized by the Showtime network, which featured her music in the series The L Word, and by the US State Department when she was chosen to tour East Africa, Eurasia and Southeast Asia as a Jazz Ambassador. She will also be featured in a magazine article and web feature for Yamaha’s All Access 360 in January 2010.
For BOOM TIC BOOM, Miller assembled a trio that she knew would stretch the limits of the music she had written. “I come from a straight ahead jazz tradition,” she explains, “but my musicianship has since been influenced by many different styles of music. So, for BOOM TIC BOOM, I wanted to approach my semi-traditional compositions with more of an avant-garde sensibility.” Key to this interpretation of her music is pianist Myra Melford, who Miller describes as bringing “electric light to my compositions. She plays with an incredible amount of spontaneous creativity and a lot of fire. There’s also a playfulness to the way she performs my music which I really love. Myra is always in the music and in the moment, but also completely individual and creative.”
The balance that Melford brings is evident immediately, as Miller opens the first track, “Cheyenne”, with a steamroller barrage that is met by Melford’s steely but delicate approach, a calm presence amidst the drummer’s effusive maelstrom. Later, on “Big Lovely”, inspired by Miller’s friend, singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon, Melford brings a knife-edged sharpness, to the song’s down-and-dirty groove. Melford also contributes two compositions to the session. “Be Melting Snow” has a fractured urgency that evokes Miller’s most abstract and textured percussion, while “Night” provides the album with a hushed and atmospheric closer to contrast the disc’s otherwise exuberant mood. To complete the trio, Miller chose bassist Todd Sickafoose, with whom she shares a long and rich musical history. The two first performed together under the leadership of saxophonist Jessica Lurie, forming a bind which has continued through each other’s projects and a busy two-and-a-half year stint touring the world with Ani DiFranco. “I think of Todd as my brother in music,” Miller says. “We just know each other musically inside and out. He’ll take the sheet of music, get the gist of what I’m trying to say, and then run with it, which frees me up to explore, too. I like to hire musicians for who they are and let them do their thing with my music. I don’t have any interest in controlling the situation.”
The trio is joined by violinist Jenny Scheinman on Miller’s “CFS (Candy Flavored Sidewalks),” which begins with extremely sparse free improvisation which congeals into a brisk hoedown. “I’m not personally a fan of jazz violin, but Jenny is the antithesis of what I thought an instrumental improvisational violinist is,” Miller admits. “She’s so melodic and lyrical, and her improvising is very energetic and melodic. She almost plays like a singer.” BOOM TIC BOOM also features two standards: “Intermission” from pianist Mary Lou Williams, who Miller refers to as “a huge idol of mine”, and Hoagy Carmichael’s classic “Rockin’ Chair”, the date’s only tune by a male composer. “I love the Louis Armstrong version of that song,” Miller says. “There are certain songs that I hear and immediately want to experiment with different chord changes and feels. On ‘Rockin’ Chair’, I love that melody, but I always heard it in a more modern version, rhythmically and harmonically.”
The end result is a multi-faceted album replete with spontaneity and emotional expression. “Maybe I’m just growing as a musician and a bandleader, but things just seemed to happen really naturally in the studio with this album,” Miller concludes. “I don’t know why that was and I don’t want to think about it too much, but it felt really good.”