Joel Miller is a Montreal, (Canada) based saxophonist and this is his fifth album as a leader, it is the second recording for his group Mandala and a first on the Artist Share label. Miller was born in New Brunswick, a town named Sackville, in the marshy Tantramar region near the Bay of Fundy. Mr. Miller seems to have taken childhood memories of his natural surroundings and has incorporated an environmental ambiance into parts of the recording. There are many other influences that come through in the make up of Tantramar, as a gifted young composer Joel Miller has listened to everything that surrounds him and he shares his vision well.
The first song of the album "Hospital Loop" is all about the melody, with lush sounding horns blowing in harmony through a moderate chugging tempo, sounding as the hustle and bustle of a busy sea port, where world rhythms meet and come together. A repeating and flowing loop like rhythm is just beneath the surface with the guitar of Kenny Bibace leading and Fraser Hollins and Thom Gossage, bass and drums respectively, providing solid support. The addition of Amelia McMahon, vocalizing for the finale adds another harmonious element, setting off the first track with seriously high energy and great dynamics.
An Eastern European sounding melody is introduced in the tune "Syriana" the song features some excellent tenor saxophone playing, an intricate single note electric guitar solo and breaking away from tradition, throws in some mid-west banjo playing by Colin Burnet, who plays banjo on one other track as well, "Boogie Gaudet." The liner notes don't indicate who takes the solos, but I believe Joel Miller is playing tenor sax on this song. Bruno Lamarche is also credited as a tenor and baritone saxophone player a clarinetist and a flutist.
Another interesting guest shows up on track four, a Black-capped Chickadee, "Chickadee's Other Song" finds Amelia McMahon in harmony with nature as she emulates the tone of the recorded Chickadee, setting the mood for the beauty of nature to reign supreme. Bill Mahar takes a pleasing feature on trumpet in accompaniment with Bruno Lamarche on flute and Joel Miller on soprano saxophone. The rhythm section plays soft and gentle, as rain falling through the marshland fills the riverbed to overflowing, creating a picturesque canvas in the listeners mind, a very pretty song.
Joel Miller's songs are definitely personal, "Aulochrome," "Big Tiny," "Demasduit" and "Pickmeup Truck" have no indication in the songs as to where these titles come from or in some cases what they mean. No matter, the songs are well composed and feature great playing, the arrangements create layers of intricate texture. The compositions utilize catchy rhythms, beautiful melodies, thought provoking hooks and other world references that make Tantramar a top ten recording for 2007, and a must listen to for 2008.