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By Hrayr Attarian
With Rivers in Our Veins, drummer and composer Allison Miller has released her most conceptually unified work yet. An original suite dedicated to U.S. waterways, the album features a few of Miller’s long-standing collaborators and a few new ones, including tap dancers. The resulting music is quite cinematic and it balances the intricacy of Miller’s composition with the dynamic spontaneity of the individual musicians.
The symphonic “GO!” opens with an explosion of tonal colors and then acquires a laid-back swagger as Miller lays down a soulful groove. Trumpeter Jason Palmer takes center stage with a fiery improvisation replete with burnished high notes and emotive warmth. The rest of the band buoys Palmer with its dynamic refrains.
Bass clarinetist Ben Goldberg contemplatively solos on the impressionistic “Fierce.” His reverberating angular lines are like gusts of cool wind and stand in intriguing contrast to violinist Jenny Scheinman’s fluid, cascading phrases. The tap dancers enhance the poignancy of the piece as the rhythm of the feet provides a uniquely theatrical feel.
Bassist Todd Sickafoose marks the poetic and contemplative “Potomac” with his lyricism, while pianist Carmen Staaf contributes a sublime undercurrent of shimmering chords. Goldberg’s yearning soliloquy meanders within the overlapping instrumental vamps as the band brings the track to its wistful conclusion
Staaf demonstrates her virtuosity on the melancholic finale, “The Dancing Tide.” Her performance, which builds to a climax during which the rest of the ensemble enters, has elements of Western classical music and ragtime. The mood grows more dramatic as the dancers and the instrumentalists engage in thrilling exchanges that Miller’s understated cadence drives with sophistication and passion.
As a composer, bandleader and improviser, Miller continues to mature with each addition to her discography. Rivers in Our Veins is the creative epitome of her uniformly superb oeuvre.