Joel Miller

Tantramar
ArtistShare AS 0072

Montreal-based saxophonist Joel Miller, a native of Sackville, N.B., succeeds by translating into sound the relaxed feel of the Tantramar marsh near his home town as well as other images. Aiding him is a quintet of top-flight multi-instrumentalists and a trio of guests. Miller, who composed the 10 evocative tunes, deserves kudos for his arrangements that not only take full advantage of everyone’s talents, but also avoid the trap of using Amelia McMahon as a “girl singer” – instead harmonizes her lilting voice with his own soprano saxophone lines or grace notes from Bill Maher’s trumpet.

With many of the pieces written in cannon form with folk music intimations, the most notable back-up player is Kenny Bibace on acoustic and electric guitars. Throughout, his contributions range from super-charged near-rock licks to light-fingered chromatic runs. More concerned with evocative scene-setting than extended soloing, Miller and fellow reed player Bruno Lamarche impress by ignoring solipsism for call-and-response obbligatos and riffs. Furthermore, although concerned with inducing traditional aural images, Tantramar doesn’t ignore modern techniques. Miller enlivens a few tracks with understated electronics including sampled fowl sounds on “Chickadee’s Other Song”.

If the CD does have drawbacks, it’s that everything is too laid-back. Even “Boogie Gaudet”, a quasi-blues with snapping guitar runs, flying tenor saxophone honks and plunger trumpet lines only flirts with emotion. When it seems as if the band has worked up a full head of steam, the tune solidifies into restrained pleasantness.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #10