The Wexner Center’s schedule rolls along, building up momentum, with a Columbus debut (as a bandleader) by one of the most vibrant, exciting drummers in jazz: Allison Miller. Miller’s band Boom Tic Boom arrive in town Tuesday, October 24 (tickets here). For more info on the band as well as videos, continue below the jump.
The first time I saw Allison Miller play was at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan. She was playing with Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra. Miller was the only player in that version of the band I wasn’t familiar with and her revelatory drumming sat me upright in my seat. Not only masterful in the context of that hyper-modern and knowing but steeped in tradition group but catchy and melodic. There were a number of jazz musicians at the wedding I was in town for and upon mentioning being struck by her playing, to a person, the response was, “She’s one of the baddest. She’s terrific.”
My fandom fully bloomed when I discovered her project Boom Tic Boom. Her writing and arranging pack surprises and intricacies into tunes that are never showy. The most recent records, Morphine No Lillies and especially 2016’s Otis Was a Polar Bear are stuffed with hook upon hook. Singable melodies that are never as simple as they first appear bring to mind Monk but also Nick Lowe. The title track of Otis Was a Polar Bear, which she brings the band to town supporting, has been on almost every one of my writing playlists since the record came out but there isn’t a duff tune here. The moment when “The Listener (for Josh Cantor)” explodes its gospel structure into a sweet, churchy call-and-response excites me every time. “High T” is a master-class in the way a confident bandleader and a great composer can turn stutter into swagger.
Miller always has great bands and this lineup of Boom Tic Boom is as strong a collection of musicians as the Wex stage has ever held. Jenny Scheinman on violin is no stranger to the Wexner audience. Scheinman’s feel for tradition and melody but lack of reverence make her the ideal front-line interpreter for these tunes. Cornetist Kirk Knuffke has a similar bone-deep understanding of melody and tradition with no time for looking back, lighting a fire in any context where he appears. Jeff Lederer on clarinet finds the deepest recesses of the heart of any material he plays on and find unexpected ways to illuminate it. Columbus audiences have witnessed Lederer’s deep hookup with Knuffke in Matt Wilson’s quartet.
A drummer-bandleader needs a standout rhythm section around her and Miller doesn’t disappoint here. Bassist Tony Scherr has a list of exquisite sideman credits to rival Miller’s, playing with everyone from the Lounge Lizards to Sex Mob to Bill Frisell to Norah Jones. Carmen Staaf on piano has an unmistakable touch lent to her own bands/compositions as well as backing a diverse array of artists from singer Dee Dee Bridgewater to Roberto Rodriguez’ octet devoted to the music of John Zorn.
No one interested in contemporary music, jazz or otherwise, should miss this chance to become acquainted with Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom.