The Jon Miller Quartet releases "Orchidology"
April 15, 2009
Coming across new (to me), high calibre, local music is always a pleasure, and never more so than with my recent discovery of the Jon Miller Quartet and their debut album Orchidology, scheduled for launch this week at Hermann’s.
Drummer Miller has been on the Victoria scene since 2003 but somehow I’d never heard him play, despite my knowing (and occasionally studying with) his guitarist Rob Cheramy – a testament to the depth and breadth of the local scene, I suppose, or maybe just a sign that I don’t get out enough.
Fortunately, saxophonist Roy Styffe happened to mention this upcoming gig to me, adding that Miller was a fine drummer worth checking out.
Styffe joined the group in 2007 and since then the quartet (anchored by bassist James Young) has been playing locally and developing their repertoire. On his website, Miller reports how the group and the album evolved:
“Rob Cheramy, James Young and I had been playing some of our own tunes on gigs for the past few years. At first it was just kind of a kick to play our own stuff sometimes…but when Rob suggested I hire Roy Styffe on sax, right from that first performance I was starting to hear lots of new possibilities for the band’s sound, especially on our original material. The group began rehearsing more intensively and in late 2008 recorded the album in two sessions at Wynn Gogol’s One Ton Studios.”
As saxophonist Monik Nordine noted in a recent comment to Island Jazz, Styffe is “one of the great Canadian alto stylists,” and anyone familiar with Cheramy knows that he is one of the most accomplished jazz guitarists in the land, who has chosen to stay in Victoria but really could have gone anywhere.
Bassist Young is highly regarded for his remarkable versatility and Miller, it turns out, has quite a pedigree, since his career has taken him from Montreal (where he played as a sideman for the likes of Vic Vogel and Jeff Healey among others), to Europe, and then on to Philadelphia. There he worked in studios and clubs throughout the U.S. Northeast, including New York City.
Together these players make a fine group and their debut album is an exciting addition to the superb recorded jazz being produced on the Island. In fact, I’ll go further and suggest that this will likely be one of the top albums launched this year – it certainly deserves widespread play and can stand with the best music being produced in the country today.
Styffe’s sax work – mainly alto but a little soprano as well – is phenomenal. He is beautifully melodic and his tone and phrasing are very reminiscent of the great Paul Desmond – in fact at times, as I got lost in the music, I almost thought I was listening to Desmond. This is not to say that Styffe is unoriginal and merely derivative – not at all – he’s very much his own man. It’s just to point out that achieving a warm melodic sound on the alto sax that invokes the likes of Desmond is a huge accomplishment and a real testament to Styffe’s artistry.
The same can be said of Rob Cheramy. Like Styffe, he’s an unassuming player who tends to hide his light under a bushel, but he’s really good and the quality of his playing is very evident on this album. It’s a delight to hear him stretch out on his solos and demonstrate not only the extensive jazz vocabulary under his fingers but also the harmonic and melodic potential of the guitar, an instrument that has sometimes been maligned in the jazz world, despite great practitioners like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass.
As for the rhythm players – Young and Miller – well, they are more than a match for Styffe and Cheramy, providing not only a swinging rhythmic core that drives the music, but also creating their own moments of magic as they emerge in the spaces and step out for solos. Miller is a versatile drummer who creates powerful moments of tension and release that generate real excitement. He’s a delight to listen to, capable of both subtle and explosive drumming and always sensitive to the players around him.
It’s apparent that he, like Styffe and Young, is also a talented composer, who, with the others, has penned some great original tunes for this album.
I’m happy to have discovered Miller and his quartet and can’t recommend them highly enough. They launch the CD this Saturday, April 18, at Hermann’s at 8 pm. Like the other two stellar shows happening this week, the cover is $10. More fabulous music for the price of a few coffees.
– Rick Gibbs