Drummer/composer/educator Allison Miller has been busy. In New York City, she sits in with the band on Late Night with Seth Myers. In Washington D.C., she’s Musical Director for INK at the Kennedy Center. She’s oftentimes on the road with Brandi Carlile. Since 2009, her own band, Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, has redefined sextet parameters by altering the chemistry of standard verse-solo-chorus restraints. On their fifth album, Glitter Wolf, they’re all over the map in a wild free-for-all of syncopated surprise and meandering circuitous routes that proves getting there is all the fun. It’s in the sophisticated yet solidly entertaining arrangements. It’s in the daredevil soloing. And, most of all, it’s in what the supporting players do during the solos.
And what a cast! As produced by Julie Wolf, the attention-to-detail is exquisite. I’ve thrilled to albums by the supremely talented violinist Jenny Scheinman in the past. Here, she takes flight almost like never before. Kirk Knuffke plays the cornet and you can tell he’s listened to Louis Armstrong. You could say the same thing about clarinetist Ben Goldberg and Benny Goodman. Bassist Todd Sickafoose is like Miller’s second skin. Pianist Myra Melford sounds like she has 20 fingers. Add three guest percussionists like you would add extra condiments to your gourmet soup for that extra kick. Tough to pick a highlight but the title track, with its Afro-Cuban flourishes, fills the bill. This one’s righteously recommended.
The Day The Music Died
Germany’s Bear Family Productions has taken the various artists on that ill-fated Winter Dance Party 1959 tour, picked out some great tracks from each, added promotional radio spots (“Hi, this is Buddy Holly. The Crickets and I are really happy to be coming your way on the winter dance party. We certainly hope to see all our old friends and make some new ones too. Also, I hope you like my latest Coral release, ‘Heartbeat.’ See you soon!”), short radio interviews, after-the-fact tributes—by Ray Campi & The Rockabilly Rebels, Eddie Cochran, and Hershel Almond, plus more music from some of the other artists on the bill like Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. The 40 tracks of The Great Tragedy: Winter Dance Party 1959, in just under 80 minutes, brings this unforgettable tour to life. Yet death hovers. Pilot Roger Peterson, Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died upon impact on an icy Wisconsin field. The 2/3/59 radio news report of the crash is also included. Not on that plane was Dion, his Belmonts, Sardo, and Holly’s Crickets, including bassist Waylon Jennings.
He Was Just Getting Started
Ritchie Valens was 17-years-old when he died. The 36 remastered tracks of Ritchie Valens Rocks (Bear Family) show a fully-formed rock ‘n’ roller who strung his guitar, wrote, and sang solid songs—and, by all accounts, put on a great show. His career lasted eight months. He debuted with “Come On” (a real rocker) and followed it up with “Let’s Go” (ditto) before that iconic two-sided “La Bamba” b/w “Donna” hit single. It sealed his place in rock history forever. Along the way, there were jams, out-takes, covers, and more. Yeah, he rocked. Bigtime. It ends with “Donna” herself, Donna Ludwig, and her recordings of “Now That You’re Gone” and “Lost Without You.”
David Dominique is a composer/arranger/producer/educator who has mastered the art of the flugabone (a trombone-flugelhorn hybrid mostly used in marching bands). His Mask (Orenda Records), took him eight years to write, the last 18 months of which had him suffering the loss of his father, grandmother, and uncle. He has channeled his grief into this nine-track adventure that skirts the borders of avant-garde, prog-rock, minimalism, post-bop, and classical. Hard to pinpoint a precedent here but Charles Mingus comes to mind. He takes Mingus’s anger, juxtaposes it with the soothing balm of Igor Stravinsky, flattens it out even further by adding Steve Reich-styled overtones, and—presto!—out comes a thick, soupy concoction, as if you pureed fruit and vegetables into a blender. Instead of fruits and veggies, though, the ingredients he has to work with are trumpet, tenor sax, clarinet, alto sax, flute, bari sax, viola, guitar, electronics, bass, drums, and more electronics. It’s a heady brew, one that dazzles, entertains, delights, surprises, and is wholeheartedly recommended.
Native American singer/songwriter Kalyn Fay has upped the ante on her 2016 Bible Belt debut. She’s in Good Company (Horton Records) but still “looking for something,” and it’s usually “something to leave.” The romance of travel is deeply sewn into this mosaic. She’s been living on Tulsa time. She calls this a love letter to her precious Oklahoma (with trips to Arkansas and Illinois). The road is her muse. As she sings in her hushed whisper of recrimination and lost opportunity, one realizes just how honest she is in her appreciation of her own life-lessons. Still, when she asks, “will you miss me when I’m gone,” it pre-supposes that, indeed, eventually she will be gone, soaking up more experience and turning those experiences into the kind of taut gems heard here.
Another Woman Of The Road
Janis Joplin once wrote in “Turtle Blues” that she’s “not the kind of woman to make your life a bed of ease/but if you want to go out drinkin’ honey, won’t you invite me along please?” In the hands of singer/songwriter Katarina Pejak, from Belgrade, Serbia, she smooths out its rough edges to make the verses more believable. As produced by genuine honky-tonk hero Mike Zito in Texas, Roads That Cross (Ruf Records), her fourth, is where she puts it all together. It’s irresistible. These songs are all about good-byes. From openers “The Nature Of My Blues” and Joni Mitchell’s “Sex Kills,” to “Old Pain” and “Down With Me,” Pejak seems almost unattainable. With hints of reggae, blues, pop, country, Latin, and jazz, this femme fatale is like the protagonist of “She’s Coming After You” who “looks like the devil’s daughter.” Watch out.