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A Brief History Of [Jim] Miller Time by Jim Miller

Recently, many jazz enthusiasts outside of Philadelphia are re-discovering the talent there which never went away, even though the jazz press may have turned much of its attention elsewhere. In fact, the Jazz Bridge of Philadelphia a project of Suzanne Cloud and Wendy Simon Sinkler to help jazz musicians gain access to medical care has received recognition in various media like JazzTimes and among journalists like Nat Hentoff. However, drummer Jim Miller and Cloud, co-founders of the Dreambox Media label, have been documenting the progress of jazz in Philadelphia during the past generation.... 24 years in fact. A very brief summary of the breadth of Philadelphia jazz talent comprises Dreambox Media’s latest CD, which in fact includes Miller on all of the tracks a privilege that the label producer and owner can enjoy. But seriously, Miller’s perspective over the last quarter century, a product more of fondness than sentimentality, is encapsulated into but nine tracks from Dreambox Media’s entire discography. In fact, Miller’s view of the past 24 years of musical production is depicted as time travel on the album’s cover, complete with Mars Attacks-like spaceships and ludicrously smiling dinosaurs cut and pasted onto a red planet. What a challenge Miller must have faced to decide which representative recordings to include.

As it is, Miller has chosen to summarize the scope of the talent and styles that Dreambox Media has recorded through a variety of stylistic choices from 1981until 2005. Or rather, from 2005 until 1981, for the album starts with a live 2005 recording of "Oleo" from Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, where some of the musicians recorded on Dreambox Media, such as Denis DiBlasio and George Rabbai, teach. In this case, "Oleo" features an extended, personalized solo by guitarist Jef Lee Johnson as he explored some of the more subtle nuances contained within its harmonies, even as he returns to the melodic signposts, not to mention pianist sopano saxophonist Ron Kerber’s flowing narrative over the changes. Miller recorded "Boo Boo’s Birthday" at Rowan University too for the 1999 album of "Monkadelphia," which provides an interpretation of some of Monk’s music by Philadephia musicians, much as Monk has been adopted for Latin rhythms by Danilo Perez or for singing b y Carmen McRae. Led by vibraphonist Tony Miceli, the group entwines Monk’s opening phrase, somewhat like a round, until a rhythm forms, allowing successive improvisations. And then there’s saxophonist/flutist Denis DiBlasio (executive director of Rowan’s Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz Studies), whose "Rhino," from his extraordinary 1998 album of the same name, creates various musically induced jungle sounds, such as those of elephants and no doubt of lumbering rhinoceroses too, over the infectious, pulsating percussion.

Surprisingly, over the past 25 years, few of the talent recorded on Dreambox Media have passed. However, on A Brief History of [Jim] Miller Time, Miller does honor two of the labels artists who are sorely missed. Local legend Eddie Green recorded his first album in 1996 on Dreambox Media, even after working for thirty years in with people like Rachelle Ferrell and Odean Pope. The new CD includes Green’s fresh arrangement of "Lift Every Voice" from Shades of Green, on which Tyrone Brown’s String Ensemble, which often records on Dreambox Media, participates as well. Green’s energetic and elastic approach to the song, lengthening some of the phrases and compressing others, generously features Miller’s dynamism as he sets in motion the frequent changes of rhythm. The other deceased Dreambox Media artist is vocalist Evelyn Simms, whose album On My Own won the Philadelphia Music Foundation’s award of "Best Recording of 1989," and she is represented by singing that title song.

In the midst of producing all of this music, however, Miller and Cloud share political views, which become evident occasionally on their own recordings, especially on Cloud’s memorably caustic album, With a Little Help from My Friends, which includes such hilarious commentary in the form of song like "Hey Kenny, Gee" or "Collagen Lips." A Brief History of [Jim] Miller Time includes, shrewdly, "Below the Beltway" from 1995, which, though it lambasts politicians from the Clinton era like Newt Gingrich, proves that the more things change in Washington D.C., the more they stay the same. For Cloud and Miller continued to put political thought to music on songs like "American Fado" or "Green Zone Blues" on his other Miller Time CD’s.

Jazz critics know all about the musicians from Philadelphia like John Coltrane or the Heaths who helped develop the art form throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, that heritage continues unto this day. Fortunately, Dreambox Media has documented much of this music, some of which is included on A Brief History of [Jim] Miller Time. It’s well worth checking out. And so is Dreambox Media’s 2000 rewarding two-CD album, Live at Ortlieb’s Jazz Haus, which includes 39 tracks of emerging and legendary Philadelphia talent like Mickey Roker, Shirley Scott, Orrin Evans, Uri Caine, Larry McKenny, Bobby Durham, Duane Eubanks, Byron Landham, Bootsie Barnes and John Swana.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jim Miller
  • CD Title: A Brief History Of [Jim] Miller Time
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Reissue Original Release: 1981 - 2005
  • Record Label: Dreambox Media
  • Tracks: Oleo, High Point, Lift Every Voice, Boo Boo’s Birthday, Rhino, Below the Beltway, By Myself, Fair Tonight, Water Dreams
  • Rating: Three Stars
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