50 Allison Miller and Friends

Allison Miller

For over a decade, drummer Allison Miller has led and been the principal composer for the band Boom Tic Boom. The group was launched in 2010 as a quartet with Jenny Scheinman on violin, Myra Melford on piano, and Todd Sickafoose on bass, but was augmented to a sextet more recently with the addition of virtuosic clarinetist Ben Goldberg and cornetist Kirk Knuffke. Each of these strong players has produced powerful music outside the band, making this an under-recognized supergroup. In this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!, we’ll listen to several releases from Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom plus samples from Jenny Scheinman, Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg on their own projects.

The debut for Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom was 2010’s eponymous release. Much of the disc is a piano trio with Myra Melford, Todd Sickafoose and Miller. While Melford is a substantial and compelling soloist, the ensemble really takes wing when Jenny Scheinman joins in on violin. As Michael G. Nastos wrote on AllMusic, “Melford’s curious piano [crops up] up in lower-key pieces, one of which, CFS with violinist Jenny Scheinman, is cast in a kinetic but restrained dance mode. It’s the kind of thinly veiled, mysterious, yet direct music that draws you in and makes you crave more.”

Boom Tic Boom’s 2013 sophomore offering, No Morphine No Lillies presented an even more cohesive band with Jenny Scheinman even more integrated. Thom Jurek on AllMusic wrote, “Miller’s compositions are all piano-based, and Melford is the perfect instrumentalist to give her often complex melodies the kind of ‘singing’ voice they deserve… Sun Comes Up the Reservoir offers a lyric take on folk forms. Its nearly pastoral melody features Scheinman’s violin nearly singing. Her interplay with Sickafoose and Miller in the middle is seamless, dancing the line between folk song and improvisation. No Morphine No Lillies is by turns a dazzling, delightful, and challenging exercise led by not only one of the finest drummers on the scene, but also one of the most innovative compositional voices.”

For the 2016 release, Otis was a Polar Bear, Miller added Ben Goldberg on clarinet and Kirk Knuffke on cornet to the already formidable lineup and the results are even richer. Will Layman wrote on AllAboutJazz, “It’s an unusual sextet, but Miller has arranged the ten songs on this collection so that her band seems more like an orchestra… or maybe a circus… of different sounds and combinations. Each song is written as a tiny, coherent suite in which the voices jump forward, come together, fall away and leap back into conversation. As a result, there is a furious fun to Otis that runs directly counter to the classic jazz stereotype of MELODY-SOLOS-MELODY… For pure funkiness, the track is Slow Jam, which sets up a swaying minor groove over which Knuffke gets to play a soulful melody. It is, simply put, sexy as hell.”

CFS (Candy Flavored Sidewalks). Allison Miller and Boom Tic Boom
(Myra Melford-p, Jenny Scheinman-vln, Todd Sickafoose-b, Allison Miller-d). From Boom Tic Boom. Foxhaven Records. 2010
Sun Comes Up the Reservoir. Allison Miller and Boom Tic Boom
(Myra Melford-p, Jenny Scheinman-vln, Todd Sickafoose-b, Allison Miller-d). From No Morphine No Lillies. Royal Potato Family. 2013
Slow Jam. Allison Miller & Boom Tic Boom
(Kirk Knuffke-cor, Ben Goldberg-cl/contra-acl, Myra Melford-p, Jenny Scheinman-vln, Todd Sickafoose-b, Allison Miller-d/per). From Otis was a Polar Bear. Royal Potato Family. 2016

While Boom Tic Boom has been honing its sound, members of the band have been involved in many other projects. Jenny Scheinman, notably, had a decade long engagement with Bill Frissell, recording together on nine discs. In 2012, she released her seventh disc as a leader, Mischief and Mayhem. On AllAboutJazz, Jack Huntley wrote, “Scheinman has an innate ability to harness both the spirit and power of the avant-garde while, at the same time, engaging the harmonically familiar riffs of rock, folk, world, or classical modes. Aided by an expert cast of musical polymaths in guitarist Nels Cline, [Boom Tic Boom band-mate] bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Jim Black, Scheinman wastes not a note in establishing the mood of musical journey. Kicking off with a middle-eastern infused cadence over a tightly pulsing rhythm, the album opening A Ride With Polly Jean expands and deconstructs melodically several times as it patiently blends layers of sounds, nimbly maintaining interest throughout.”

Myra Melford has been a recording artist since the early 90s. Her disc, The Other Side of Air, with her band Snowy Egret was one of the best and maybe the most elegant disc of 2018. Filipe Freitas of Jazz Trail writes, “… the members of Snowy Egret – … Ron Miles on cornet, Liberty Ellman on guitar, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums – create unpredictable fusions within the legitimate compositional aesthetic of the pianist. The virtuosity and intuition of the group are immediately perceptible on the opening track, Motion Stop Frame. The attractive melody, either uttered in unison or counterpoint, is laid over a stealthy bass groove that anchors further sonic layers. Miles and Melford find the space they need for their respective impromptu discourses; the former enjoys a serene, more rudimentary backing, whereas the bandleader reacts particularly colorful by engaging in busy single-note trajectories, patent rhythmic figures, and harmonic chains filled with tension.”

Multi-clarinetist Ben Goldberg has also recorded as a leader for 30 plus years. He is a explorer who engages in sonic experiments with consistently interesting results. In 2013, he released a quintet disc, Unfold Ordinary Mind, with twin tenors Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth, Nels Cline on guitar and Ches Smith on drums. In this case, his contra-alto clarinet plays the foundational role of the bass. His 2017 release Good Day for Cloud Fishing is a collaboration with Ron MIles on trumpet and Nels Cline, again, on guitar.

A Ride with Polly Jean. Jenny Scheinman Quartet
(Jenny Scheinman-vln, Nels Cline-g, Todd Sickafoose-b, Jim Black-d). From Mischief & Mayhem. Self-Produced. 2010
Motion Stop Frame. Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret
(Ron Miles-cor, Myra Melford-p, Liberty Ellman-g, Stomu Takeishi-b, Tyshawn Sorey-d). From The Other Side Of Air. Firehouse 12. 2018
A Rhythmia. Ben Goldberg Trio
(Ron Miles-tp, Ben Goldberg-cl/cacl, Nels Cline-g). From Good Day For Cloud Fishing. Good Day For Cloud Fishing. 2017
xcpf. Ben Goldberg Quintet
(Ben Goldberg-contra-alto-cl/cl, Ellery Eskkelin-ts, Rob Sudduth-ts, Nels Cline-g, Ches Smith-d). From Unfold Ordinary Mind. BAG Productions. 2013

More recently Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom released their fifth disc, Glitter Wolf in 2019. The same all-star sextet that recorded Otis was a Polar Bear was back for their best effort yet. As Jennifer Demeritt wrote on AllAboutJazz, “[The tune] The Ride is [a] highlight. It takes off with explosive drums and shifts from a bruising funk eloquence (with horn counterpoint atop) to chamber classical ease to New Orleans-style jazz/blues intrepidity. Right after Knuffke and Scheinman’s confident discourses, Goldberg jumps out, taking his bass clarinet to an abysmal low-toned crusade that pumps up the groove deeply. The exciting ride ends in poised suspension.”

The Rise. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom
(Kirk Knuffke-cor, Ben Goldberg-cl, Myra Melford-p, Jenny Scheinman-vln, Todd Sickafoose-b, Allison Miller-d). From Glitter Wolf. Royal Potato Family. 2019

Allison Miller has proven to be one of the best bandleaders around, leading an ensemble of unsurpassed strength and providing them with complex and stimulating compositions that are structured to provide space for their individual talents to shine. Her most recent effort has been with the all-female super-group Artemis who we featured earlier in this series. The only disc released so far by that collaboration leads one to hope that it wasn’t a one-off project and that Allison Miller has the energy and opportunity to continue to create music with both Artemis and Boom Tic Boom.

After spending many years researching, writing and producing Jazz at 100 consisting of 100 one-hour programs that told the 100-year history of recorded jazz from 1917 – 2017, I felt it was important to put my energy to connecting living and working artists in this tradition with an audience that might be more familiar with the jazz heroes of the past. That was the genesis of this recent effort, Jazz at 100 Today! Over the past 50 weekly programs, conceived, written and produced during the pandemic year, I have explored many themes that I see in the current scene and have played many of the artists whose work excels in pushing this music forward. The omissions are numerous and painful as the music is in the hands of a staggering number of excellent players. I am at the point where I need to put this work on hiatus to pursue other interests and this will be the last program in this series for the time being. I look forward to sharing more music in the future.

I want to thank my musical home, WTJU 91.1FM in Charlottesville Virginia, its General Manager Nathan Moore; Sound Engineer, Audio Editor and Producer Lewis Reinig; Volunteer, Engagement, Programs Coordinator Peter Jones; Jazz Director David Eisenman; and fellow announcer The Jazz Messenger Brian Keena for their assistance, support and generosity. The website AllAboutJazz has provided an internet home for these musings and Founder/Publisher Michael Ricci has been a great supporter. “All Jazz is Local,” so thanks to the Charlottesville Jazz Society and its President Gary Funston. They have brought many of these artists into my life.

Resources

Nastos, Michael G. (2010). AllMusic. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom – Boom Tic Boom. https://www.allmusic.com/album/boom-tic-boom-mw0001965446

Sachs, Lloyd. (2013, April 26). JazzTimes. No Morphine, No Lilies: Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/no-morphine-no-lilies-allison-millers-boom-tic-boom/

Jurek, Thom. (2013). AllMusic. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom – No Morphine No Lillies. https://www.allmusic.com/album/no-morphine-no-lilies-mw0002499914

Layman, Will. (2016, April 22). Pop Matters. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom: Otis was a Polar Bear. https://www.popmatters.com/allison-millers-boom-tic-boom-otis-was-a-polar-bear-2495438416.html

Huntley, Jack. (2012, February 27). AllAboutJazz. Jenny Scheinman: Mischief & Mayhem. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/mischief-and-mayhem-jenny-scheinman-self-produced-review-by-jack-huntley.php

Freitas, Filipe. (2018, November, 14). Jazz Trail. Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air. https://jazztrail.net/blog/2018/11/12/myra-melford-other-side-air-album-review

Sachs, Lloyd. (2013, March 20). JazzTimes. Ben Goldberg: Unfold Ordinary Mind. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/ben-goldberg-unfold-ordinary-mind/

Corroto, Mark. (2019, August 13). AllAboutJazz. Ben Goldberg: Good Day For Cloud Fishing. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/good-day-for-cloud-fishing-ben-goldberg-pyroclastic-records-review-by-mark-corroto.php

Demeritt, Jennifer. (2019, April 17). AllAboutJazz. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom: Glitter Wolf. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/glitter-wolf-allison-miller-royal-potato-family-review-by-jennifer-demeritt.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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