|A CD report
by David Fujino December 2005
A lovely musical spirit flourishes in this Joel Miller recording wherein the title tune, "Mandala", establishes a melodic and emotionally satisfying tone that sounds throughout the entire recording.
As played by unison guitar and bass, the soulful melody of "Mandala" mirrors itself in shifting registers, while the tune's anticipated 'drone note' gets played by the rhythm section and soprano saxophonist Joel Miller in an interesting bit of musical role reversal. As the repeated melody changes from a light country lilt, then starts to rock, we find Miller fluently soloing on soprano above Gossage's clean ringing cymbals and concise rim shots, but it's guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's inventive and wailing solo lines that eventually resolve the tune into a series of slow and calming country rock chords.
In compositions like "Shopping", "War con U.S.A", "Aqua land" (note trumpeter Bill Mahar's tart solo), "Now that I own a TV", and "Step Into My Office", the driving jazz aesthetic is most apparent, though it must be said, the general playing of Joel Miller and associates is consciously at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from the feverish states aimed for in many American players' soloing.
But make no mistake: this is not elevator nor simplistic spiritualist music it's just that Miller's clearly interested in singing the praises of creativity, and he largely achieves this through positive, affirmative musical means: he wrote most of the compositions in major keys; his melodies are simple and rhythmically active; and his own solos are notably direct and lyrical, with little side-stepping in them.
Further, this is a jazz album comfortably affiliated with the exalted spirit found in the best country rock, Gospel, and Celtic music ("Swing la bas caisse"), and it frequently organizes itself around the kind of meditative drones found in Indian classical music ("Mandala" and "Mandala Interlude").
Now that I've heard this CD, the need for an alternative music of positive, affirmative song, is abundantly clear, as delivered (thankfully) by these Canadian jazz musicians.