Allison Miller and Carmen Staaf, “MLW,” from Science Fair
Drummer Allison Miller and pianist Carmen Staaf, two of the most progressive melody makers on the current scene, unite around themes of experimentation and discovery on Science Fair, their new album from Sunnyside Records. The album’s title is also the name of the band — which at points across this disc includes trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, reedist Dayna Stephens and bassist Matt Penman — and it’s an especially apt phrase, because Miller and Staaf combine for remarkable musical alchemy. The two musicians first met when the pianist sat in with Boom Tick Boom, Miller’s brainy avant-groove band, and they almost immediately found common ground in their commitment to pushing artistic boundaries.
Their shared sensibilities and lockstep rapport are borne out in fine detail on “MLW,” a mysterious and quietly eruptive duet that features Miller and Staaf in close, dynamic concentration. With a soft yet resolute touch, Miller conjures a swarm of tom-tom and snare that hums beneath Saaft’s thorny piano. At first blush, the tune draws parallels to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” — it’s full of the same tropical mystique and spectral harmony— but by the time the song swells to its conclusion, the feel is something else entirely. The pulse has quickened, and Miller and Staaf exchange a new flash of brilliance with every bar. Talk about good chemistry.