Canadian saxophonist and composer Joel Miller, a jazz graduate of McGill University, has studied with Dewey Redman, Kenny Wheeler and Pat LaBarbera, among others. In 1997 he won the Grand Jazz Award, in conjunction with the 1997 Montreal Jazz Festival, and in 2005 he won the Opus Award. He has worked with artists such as Michael Buble , Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Monder, Ingrid Jensen and Brad Turner. Tantramar is named for a region close to the Nova Scotia - New Brunswick border, close to where Miller grew up.
The sextet featured here, along with three guests on a few tunes, have been working together regularly for a number of years and the close association they have shared over that time shows in the unity of concept they demonstrate in phrasing, dynamics, inflection-accentuation of line and singular musical vision. They interpret the ten tunes, all written by Miller, in a total accord and with great attention to unanimity of intent.
Maybe the best description of this music would be Zen-folk jazz. For the most part, the importance of improvisation is limited and replaced by an interweaving of unison and harmonically constructed lines that weave through and around each other in much the same way as the tunes "Pinocchio" and "Nefertiti" did in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet. The lack of importance in playing the lines in metric perfection by the three man horn front line - Miller on saxophones, Bruno Lamarche on saxophones, flute and clarinet, and trumpet and cornet player Bill Mahar - gives of the music wonderful sense of drift.
The use of acoustic guitar accompaniment, on a number of pieces, further adds a wonderful quasi-1960s Bob Dylan - Joan Baez folk feel to many of the pieces. Even on those numbers where electric guitar is employed, such as on "Aulochrome," Miller’s compositional constructs still serve up a wonderful sense of sparse and uncovered joy, a hallmark of much of northern Canadian folk music.
"Syriana" is a wonderful case in point of how the offset of unison entrances shifts what would be a mundane composition into the realm of inspired genius. As the instrumentalists interlace their lines, the composition winds itself down to just Miller and Lamarche playing a unison pitch offset by metric entrance articulations. Miller’s following solo, replete with brilliant use of silences, further captures the Zen-folk flavor previously mentioned. Kenny Bibace’s guitar solo, while not as openly constructed with regard to points for listeners to digest the lines as Miller’s, instead employs an almost non-stop succession of eighth notes that recalls the manner of trumpeter Tim Hagans chromatically oriented solos. The contrast between the two styles is unexpected, but nice.
In addition, there are some nice delicacies scattered throughout the disc. The bebop quote in "Anonymity" and "Pickmeup Truck," with its electronic rock orientation, serves up Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears horn based pyrotechniques. Miller’s vision is a unique one, and perhaps this, his first Artist-Share production, will help give him the wider recognition he deserves.