PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom Makes a Career Highlight with 'Glitter Wolf'

Photo: Shervin Lainez / Courtesy of the artist

This powerful, versatile band makes music across boundaries but with the improvisational daring of jazz. Allison Miller can't help but make music you can't define easily.

Glitter Wolf
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom

Royal Potato Family

1 February 2019

Composer and drummer Allison Miller plays every kind of music, and she puts a lot of that variety into her band Boom Tic Boom. It is an all-star band of players who lead their own bands, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about Glitter Wolf is how cohesive it is and the degree to which it presents the wide and varied personality of Miller even though her collaborators are each so individually formidable.

Miller has been an important player for years, and Boom Tic Boom's last recording, Otis Was a Polar Bear, was her career highlight. Until now.

Glitter Wolf shares an orchestral approach with its predecessor. It is also inherently a dance record: not for the club perhaps but a recording that is endlessly coming up with new ways to shake your hips or get you strutting. It's not just that the leader is a drummer—though, wow, is she—but it is the way Miller's composing draws from a deep well of music that has a sense of movement in it. The instrumentation of the band—Myra Melford's percussive piano, Jenny Scheinman on violin (often sounding very "fiddle"-like), Ben Goldberg's clarinet, Kirk Knuffke on cornet, and bassist Todd Sickafoose—puts several traditions of American music in play beyond jazz: folk and country forms, slices of funk and hip hop, classical "new music" or so-called minimalism, rock in the vein of Frank Zappa, Latin music, and plenty more.

"The Ride" is a great example of the range that Boom Tic Boom can achieve in a single composition. Miller pulls you up the track of her roller coaster with an off-kilter drum solo that gets extended by a set of polyrhythmic hits by the whole band: fiddle swoops, thumping contra-alto clarinet, glissandi/rumbles on the piano, and ripples of lines by vibes and celeste. The tune develops a positively funky groove that any DJ would have been happy to have created, over which a cornet/piano unison melody unfurls. The clarinet and violin alternate syncopated shouts throughout, but it ends quickly to give way to a gently pulsing and pastoral interlude. Knuffke solos over a modified version of the funk, with Melford comping freely as Scheinman's violin plays answer lines. As different instruments solo, Miller subtly changes the groove on drums and in the arrangement so that each slice of funk is slightly different: more urgent, double-timed, stuttering, flowing. The cars of the coaster move up, over, and down these different grooves, giving way to the gentle flow again. A "Ride" indeed.

Another mixture, but just as addictive, is in evidence within "Welcome Hotel". The opening feel, which pushes along a cornet/clarinet melody, sounds like a syncopated reggae pattern, though with a variation on a New Orleans drum groove lurking around the edges. The bridge, however, creates an impressionistic transition into a Latin piano jazz figure.

"Malaga" is based more purely on a syncopated Latin pattern which finds Sickafoose and Melford playing tricky patterns that lock together around Miller's compelling clatter. The violin loops a set of long tones and the horns bounce over it all. Listening to this one is like watching a burbling brook run over a pile of gorgeous stones, with the light hitting the water and the waves differently at each second. Melford solos first, taking one of her typically rhythmic and unconventional paths through the song's structure. In every case on Glitter Wolf, Melford seems to find a way to refresh jazz improvising on piano. Here, she plays with a thrusting directness, often playing octaves articulated by both hands together. She starts by sounding almost robotic, playing against Miller's thwapping groove, and then she evolves the solo such that her two hands are grooving as surely as those of a conga player.

Melford is bracing on "Congratulations and Condolences" too. Her solo begins with a set of wild single-note patterns in the lower register of the piano, but she speeds them up so they become increasingly frantic and atonal, occasionally alternating their mad arpeggios with crashes of chords. Each segment of the solo ups the ante, making the patterns faster and more defiant. But for all the rumble of it, every note feels carefully chosen. And the solo is all the more effective because it comes amidst an anthemic composition. Melford, throughout the recording, is the pepper in the dish—complementary but sharp.

The other X factor in the band is Jenny Scheinman and her violin, morphing her often. Scheinman can form a small string section, playing pizzicato along with Sickafoose's bass on "Zev - The Phoenix", only to play long accompanying tones underneath Melford's lyrical piano solo a moment later. On "White Wolf" she plays a languorous melody in harmony with the clarinet. Her solo on that composition is generous in using blues intervals and double-stops to growl as well as sing. Sheinman is utilized in Miller's compositions to shift the tone from one genre to another. On "Daughter and Sun", which starts with the jubilant thrust of a McCoy Tyner composition, her fiddle adds a sunny brightness that suggests a flash of Americana. "Vine and Vein" uses her fiddle tone to move further in that direction, as she plays a country-ish counter-melody around a lovely horn line. On the title track Scheinman mixes it up in a collective improvisation with trumpet and cornet, leading to her finishing out the track playing scratched-out chords in a quick rhythmic pattern like a bluegrass fiddler. Every move is important in making Boom Tic Boom sound like no other band.

Goldberg and Knuffke are given generous room to shine as well, though their roles are more conventionally designed. Knuffke impresses in his lead-off solo on "Welcome Hotel", squeezing out delicious half-valve blue notes but also rat-a-tatting some funky repeated-note bugle calls. On "The Ride" he is expressive and playful, pushing the boundaries of the harmony more freely. Goldberg is more likely to soar into the stratosphere. His ripe sound is what makes the melody to "Congratulations" feel so urgent, and his solo on that tune takes its time rolling in fluttering patterns. On "Malaga" he is a boxer, jabbing with one hand, upper-cutting with another in a rhythmic style while also playing fluid runs that seems slippery and seductive. "White Wolf" allows Goldberg to play more gently, whereas "Welcome Hotel" pits him against the whole band in counterpoint, over which he rides with acrobatic flair.

Behind every song is Allison Miller as composer and engine. She doesn't always play like a power drummer, but she can if she should—such as on "Congratulations", where she has the drive of a mature Tony Williams. Miller rarely seems in the forefront of the band, but it is clear that the dancing quality of so many of these performances comes from how she establishes precise but organic grooves that breath in and out with the rest of the band—such as on "Daughter and Sun". She adds vibraphone and celeste to several compositions, becoming even more melodic than her beautifully tuned trap set drumming. Miller orchestrates and guides all of the music like a conductor, generating atmospheres that manage to sound specific from tune to tune but that also manage to take in a wide swath of styles.

The music on Glitter Wolf is pan-stylistic in the best way—sounding like "jazz" because only jazz would dare these glorious improvising musicians to engage in such free-flowing dialogue, but otherwise shimmying from Latin grooves to pastoral folk music, to dancing funk, to wherever Allison Miller dares to take you next.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.