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Allison Miller - Boom Tic Boom (2010)

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By Pico

Drumming ace Allison Miller might not be a household name, but, boy, she sure is linked to a whole host of them.

The Washington, DC-born Miller has recorded and toured with Ani DeFranco, Natalie Merchant and Brandi Carlile. She's also drummed for major figures on the jazz side, too, like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Erik Friedlander, Kenny Barron, Harvie S and appeared on this fantastic record last year by Linda Presgrave. I'd imagine only Brian Blade and Manu Katch have more enviable resums than she does.

This past Tuesday, Miller put in circulation only her second album, Boom Tic Boom, an album that she states is “composed for and inspired by important women" in her life. All the songs, half by herself, were composed by women, except for Hoagy Carmichael's “Rockin' Chair." For this album, Miller employs a trio setup, with Todd Sickafoose (late of Jessica Lurie's Shop Of Wild Dreams) on bass and Myra Melford on piano. Jenny Scheinman, who was cited here last year for playing a key role in Ben Allison's widely lauded Think Free release, contributes her singular violin for one track.

“Cheyenne," a power waltz, is the first track from Boom Tic Boom and it's also the best. Miller announces the tone with crashes, rolls and bombs that's both meaningful and muscular, then settles into an Elvin Jones groove. Melford puts down some spiritual chords but avoids aping McCoy Tyner outright by acting instead as an effective counterbalance to Miller's energy. She plays big chords, but doesn't cram 'em down your ears. That's a good sign that Miller found the right accompanist for her brand of music. The song ends in a delightfully imaginative way, too: the band fades out to leave behind Sickafoose's solemn four-note bass line, and Miller returns only to freelance over it.

Sickafoose becomes the critical element in the free-jazz of “Fead," as he wanders from quiet ruminations, to funk, to a jazz-standard 4/4 beat. In the last section, Melford takes off with some lively improvising, and Miller stays underneath to provide some interesting counterpoints. Mary Lou Williams' “Intermission" is the second cut in a row Sickafoose is anchoring the main melodic line, freeing up Melford to play out fully formed, well-modulated lines. Carmichael's “Rockin' Chair" is interpreted as a piano ballad form that accentuates the deep lyricism in the song. Miller's subtle brushwork and cymbals accents gets showcased as Sickafoose's wonderfully woody solo is the song's highlight.

Melford's “Be Melting Snow" returns the group to the abstract melodies of earlier; both her and Sickafoose combine for meandering unison lines, and Miller improvises purposefully without being tethered to time. “CFS (Candy Flavored Sidewalks)" is kind of a jaunty jig, one where Scheinman's fiddle is a fine match for. Here, Miller shows off the bluegrass side of her multi-faceted approach. “Big And Lovely" is exactly how to describe the funky bass riff that forms the basis for this tune. Mood and coloration is the name of the game with the gentle closer “Night."

Boom Tic Boom is at turns muscular and ethereal, an appropriate showcase for a musician who has long shown capabilities across so many styles. What might be the best surprise is that in addition to performing and composing, she can also lead, as Melford and Sickafoose are both made into active participants in a true trio record led by a drummer, not a “drummer's" record. In a slight twist of the old commercial line Boom Tic Boom “strong enough for a man but made by a woman." A very talented one at that.

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