Dominic Miller Absinthe (ECM)
Guitarist and composer Miller delivers power and subtlety in equal measure. Abetted by producer Manfred Eicher’s canny guidance and ECM’s flawless sound and studio presence, Miller draws on inspiration from painters of France’s impressionist period. His liner essay emphasizes the importance to his musical conception of works by Cezanne, Renoir, Lautrec, Monet and other impressionist painters. He credits, “the American imagination and vision itself,” for initially recognizing the importance of the French impressionism that began to flower in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the French themselves had yet to recognize the genius and revolutionary nature of the movement. As for the album title, Miller writes, “Sharp light and witchy mistrals, combined with strong alcohol and intense hangovers must have driven some of these artists toward insanity.”
There is no suggestion of drunkenness or insanity in Miller’s music. Rather, he manages with his quintet partners to create music that, for all its exoticism, is stimulating and relaxing. Could that account for “Mixed Blessing” being the title of one of his pieces? It is relaxing music; yes, but chords from Miller’s guitar introduce edginess that contrasts with the floating elegance of Santiago Arias’s bandoneon, that enchanting concertina-like instrument from the South American pampas. The brilliant brushwork-and-cymbals drumming of Manu Katché flows beneath, in and around the solo expressions of Miller, keyboardist Mike Lindup and Nicolas Fiszman, a bassist who fashions his supporting lines as if he had tailored them to order for each of the other four. Fiszman’s power throughout is remarkable, particularly so on Miller’s “Ténebrès” and the closing “Saint Vincent.”
When this album showed up, I intended to give it a quick listen. The quick listen became five times in a row.