by Ian Mann
September 22, 2010
Classy instrumental rock with jazz flavourings from Sting's long serving guitarist.
Guitarist Dominic Miller is a session veteran best known for his work as a member of Sting’s band, both on the road and in the recording studio. Miller has appeared on around two hundred albums in total working with a wide variety of artists, most notably Phil Collins and The Pretenders.
Besides being a busy session musician Miller has also found time to carve out a solo career with a series of all instrumental albums beginning with 1995’s “First Touch”.Many of these albums have centred around the distinctive acoustic sound of Miller’s nylon strung guitar.
“November” is Miller’s eighth solo project and finds him entering more expansive fusion flavoured territory. He has recruited a core band of bassist Mark King and keyboard player Mike Lindup, both of the group Level 42, and drummer Ian Thomas, another fixture on the session scene. Miller probably wouldn’t describe himself as a jazz guitarist but he has recruited a number of jazz heavyweights to the cause with saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, keyboard players Yaron Herman and Jason Rebello plus flautist Dave King all making guest appearances. Drummer Thomas also has something of a jazz pedigree having at one time worked with guitarist Jim Mullen.
The music on “November” emphatically isn’t jazz. It could be described as fusion at a pinch although Miller prefers to concentrate on composition and atmosphere rather than virtuosity and there is a genuine attempt to explore a variety of moods and styles. For all that the music lacks the inventiveness and spontaneity of the best jazz. Despite the jazzy trappings this is essentially high quality instrumental rock, there’s no doubting the skill and chops of the players involved, but for jazz fans the results will inevitably sound a little bland, something the use of modern electric keyboards and programming only exacerbates.
The eleven Miller compositions commence with “Solent” which mixes acoustic and electric guitars, textured keyboards and the solid drumming of Thomas. It’s certainly descriptive in it’s evocation of sea and sky scapes with Miller’s soaring electric guitar work sometimes reminiscent of Dave Gilmour or Camel’s Andy Latimer. Perplexingly the accompanying press release describes the piece as “lounge music”. It may not be jazz but it deserves a better description than that.
“2 w3” displays a stronger rock influence and features some powerful riffs with guest keyboard player Yaron Herman adding a distinctive electric piano solo. Born in but now based in France Herman is an accomplished jazz pianist and leads his own trio. His piano trio album “Muse” is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
“Still” is described as a “new age meditation” but again it’s more than that and has something in common with the opening “Solent”. Miller’s guitar soars once more, shades again of Gilmour or maybe Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” as he takes flight above Lindup’s lugubrious piano chording.
“Gut Feeling” sees Lawrence Cottle replacing King on bass, Miller doubling on keyboards and the drums being provided by a machine. But the chief focus is on Herman who provides another idiosyncratic electric piano solo and Miller who subsequently features his now trademark soar away guitar.
“Ripped Nylon” returns to a more rock influenced style with a side order of funk with Herman’s dirty synthesiser sound augmenting Miller’s guitar heaviness. Dave Heath is the other guest soloist, his flute sound breathy yet surprisingly guttural, an unexpected yet inspired choice for this type of tune.
“Racine” mixes atmospherics with a subtly funky backdrop and is noticeable for a synth solo from Lindup, one of the few taken by Miller’s core sidemen. The guitarist apparently requested that Thomas, King and Lindup leave their egos at the door the better to serve the tunes-quite an achievement in the case of slap bass specialist King I would think, he used totally dominate Level 42’s records as I recall.
“Sharp Object” is low down nasty funk with a solid backbeat, snarling guitars and idiosyncratic burbling synth from the always interesting Herman. Unashamedly retro but rather fun.
The rather more genteel “Chanson 1” contains a delightful acoustic piano solo from Jason Rebello, Miller’s one time colleague in the Sting band. Rebello also has strong jazz credentials and his playing here is a welcome humanising influence amidst the swirling synths.
Saxophonist Stan Sulzmann guests on the dark hued “Marignane” his echo drenched solo framed by the malevolent chording of Miller and King.
“Chanson II” is essentially a solo feature for Miller, his pretty acoustic guitar shadowed by his own keyboards and machine generated drums.
Acoustic guitar also introduces the closing title track which eventually heads off into the stratosphere on a bank of layered guitars with Miller making judicious use of his effects pedals.
In its way “November” is a pretty decent album and Miller’s fan base will probably glean a good deal of satisfaction from it. There is much to admire here, the writing is varied and for this type of music relatively adventurous and the playing is excellent as one would expect. Miller is particularly good and the guests particularly Herman, Rebello and Sulzmann add colour and variety but for a jazz fan such myself it’s all a little too antiseptic and tasteful and the rhythms rather too predictable.. This is the kind of music I might have listened to in the 70’s or 80’s when as a rock fan I was first dipping my feet into jazzier waters but it’s something I’ve largely moved on from now. “November” has it’s moments and may hold greater appeal to ears other than mine.
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