Joel Miller


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Canadian tenor saxophonist Joel Miller has recruited a sextet of modern jazz players to bring his bright, melodic, tuneful music to life. On Tantramar, a fond tribute to a bicycle trail leading to a marsh and fishing spot near his childhood home in Sackville, New Brunswick, Miller revives those memories with a musical endeavor recorded in Montreal that is startlingly beautiful, skillfully played by all, and infused with a sense of wonder, innocence, and purpose. You'd be hard pressed to find any dour or melancholy moments on this disc, but symmetry, balance, and bright moments abound. Fellow tenor saxophonist Bruno Lamarche, trumpeter Bill Mahar, and guitarist Fraser Bibace hold similar values as pure tonic sonic troubadours. Amelia McMahon also is a true standout on the four tracks where her wordless vocals are included. The utter pristine melodic content of this music cannot be overemphasized, whether couched in breezy contemporary phrases as on "Hospital Loop," clothed in a light, funky, bluesy, and soulful dance weave on "Big Tiny," or within a buoyant and bouncy motif during "Syriana." As seriously precise as this music is performed, it's also fun to hear, but is not idiosyncratic of formularized. Miller's soprano sax or Larmarche's flute front two choppy tunes -- the short "Aulochrome," or "Anonymity" alongside Mahar's brass with a processed sonic wave soaring overheard. Miller is the aeronaut, but turns his electronics into a soul monster during "Pickemeup Truck" with horns faster than the rhythms, while the jangly guitar of Bibace snipes at Miller's tenor on "Flying Dream." McMahon's singing joins with the actual sound of a songbird on "Chickadee's Other Song," with the three-pronged horns for "Hospital Loop," and acts both reverent and quirky over tom tom drums on "Demasduit." All of the musicians have a clean, lean sound that also lends to the simple splendor they convey in this very attractive and universally accessible music. It's some of the best original contemporary jazz heard recently, and considering those two styles are usually exclusive of one another, it's quite an achievement. This is a special project, one to seek, adopt, and live with.

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