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Phil Miller - In Cahoots: Mind Over Matter CD (album) cover


Phil Miller

Canterbury Scene

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4 stars Five years have passed since the previous album "Conspiracy Theories" and finally comes a new album by guitarist Phil Miller and his band In Cahoots! Phil is a meticulous composer and it takes time to achieve the level found on this new album. We notice at first that a new horn section appears for the first time here, with saxophonist Paul Booth and trumpetist Mark Armstrong replacing respectively Picard and Finch. Then after listening to the album two three times, one general impression that struck me is the care taken to complex melodic voicings! Sometimes unisson lines form the theme, other times the melodic rose opens up in a harmonic contrapuntic motion, the chordal being the melody. A labour of love, impressive and emotionally working on the listener's fibers. The album starts with a gigant 18-minutes long medley of epic proportions. From the very beginning, some of Hatfield & the North's spirit caress your ear, the *theme* being here a long and complex chord progression opening the way to multiple harmonic modulations and a strong half-diminished feel. This is maybe the tune that is closer to progressive rock, with a massive heavy sounding guitar solo from Miller and a superb synth solo from Lemer; there are several sections where blow instruments take it away from prog and move it towards jazzier roads but we always come back to this massive harmonic sequence, the leit motiv of the piece. "Contrary Motion" offers what the title says: harmonized horn voicings against guitar movements and melodic bass walking, all in a kind of contrapuntal progression. After a guitar solo, the trumpet takes over at double time, followed by a bass solo, where we again can't but appreciate the phenomenal fretless work of Fred Baker. Follows "Pent Up", a piece in two parts, both in a 5/4 signature. Part 1 is marked by a rather slow tempo and some kind of bass ostinato while part 2 speeds it up in a Latin inflected style (the piano comping and piano/bass rhythmic line close to salsa / Latin jazz). The piece returns to the slow tempo at the end, ending with a great ethereal guitar solo. "Focus Pocus" is the only piece not composed by Phil, but instead by keyboardist Pete Lemer; based on a solid eighth note pulse, the tune has a middle section presenting you with a tough evil crossed rhyhtm of 24 eighth notes, divided by 6 by some players, by eight by other! And they keep it for the solos, not an easy task to accomplish! "E.D. or Ian" may be dedications to persons but who? This is anyway a charming ballad, at times sounding strangely like Oregon, maybe because of the meditative soprano sax and the wonderful horn voicings. Miller delivers here a superb plaintive guitar solo. The ending is wonderful, combining sustained guitar tones and a myriad of bass harmonics. "Call Sign" closes the album, starting with a rock-solid rhythm but moving in a boppish vein during both sax and trumpet solos. The bottom line: the writing of this album is superb, the music stunning! But - yes, there is a relatively important *but* - my biggest concern is about the production side of the album! There is nearly throughout a nasty disturbing use of reverberation that imo partly kills the music or at least amputates the pleasure! Too much of the music is drowning in this reverberation; the price? it takes some of the drums attack, the instruments when soloing seem at time to shift from a wet to a dry sound within no time, like if the engineer was randomly turning the knobs, every instrument seems placed dead center in the stereo field, bumping on each other, muffling the sound, masking small details. The most hearable place of this weird balance is attained during the piano solo in the ballad number; it seems like the keyboard's aftertouch function triggers both the extra sound but also this damned reverb, suddenly invading everything. Honestly, I think this is a pity and could have easily been avoided. If you want to minimize this aspect, you'll have to listen at lower volumes; if you like it loud, you can't avoid being badly wet! Another production aspect is that Baker's bass at times jumps way too much upfront in the mix, becoming too dominating and again altering the placing of the other instruments in the stereo field! I'd like to know what the conditions were when they tackled the production; I don't remember having faced this kind of problem in previous releases!

Report this review (#815530)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I'm feeling quite guilty of some sort of crime here for awarding 5 stars to a CD that is obviously, after just a few moments of listening, NOT progressive rock; but essentially the perfect example of what modern jazz should sound like. What we have here, is the most astounding collection of world class musicians that one could hope to gather, working together to interpret the thrilling compositions of an old friend and brilliant taskmaster, Phil Miller.

I received my copy of this album of songs from Phil himself, via international mail, shortly after it's release. There is absolutely no changing my mind after nearly three years; that this is the most uplifting, exciting, and meticulously delivered package of ear candy that Phil has produced to date, with six of the seven compositions written by Phil. Mind you, it does bear much more resemblance to Jazz, than what many would label prof-rock; but if your pleasures take ease in drifting from one genre to another, this is a treasure worth the travel.

There are significantly exhilarating high points demonstrated by each of the band members throughout this catalog; with the usual standouts on occasion being Fred Baker's propulsion of the bottom end searing through the atmosphere, and Mark Armstrong's blazing trumpet, which surely raises Miles from his resting place with each hair-raising note. Be advised: This is JAZZ in it's spellbinding and most emotionally jam-packed form. As for our old friend Phil Miller, he could get 5 stars playing Lawrence Welk covers; but here he shines the light so brilliantly, it's difficult to observe any musical boundaries. Seek this out, and expand your threshold.

Report this review (#1236538)
Posted Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | Review Permalink

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