[album review] lloyd miller & the heliocentrics: (ost)

October 10, 2010

Album cover by Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics

Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics: (OST) (Strut Records, 2010)
13 tracks/eMusic credits [buy on eMusic] [buy on iTunes]

Following their foray into Ethio-jazz via last year’s Inspiration Information with Mulatu Astatke – a fruitful relationship culminating in last month’s wonderful concert at the Barbican – the Heliocentrics‘ latest release takes jazz on another journey, to Iran. Their guide this time is Dr. Lloyd Miller, an American musician and musicologist perhaps best known in jazz circles for his 1968 release Oriental Jazz.

(OST) – the album is also listed as being self-titled – layers the Heliocentrics’ signature fluid jazz orchestration beneath a range of lead and percussive instruments from Persian and other Oriental traditional musics, Miller’s tools of the trade for the last 50 years or so.

The music is exotic, deep and funky. The album’s running order almost alternates between pieces that sway hypnotically, floating like a snake being charmed (Nava, Spiritual Jazz), and ones that establish a robust groove, flirting with be-bop while retaining the Oriental otherness that runs through Miller’s musical biography (Fantasia, Chahargah).

The best tracks are those that exemplify either one of those two dynamics: Mandala creates a funky, psychedelic trance, using sitar and tabla-like sounds; the brief but beautiful Salendro layers chimes to shimmering effect; album closer Sunda Sunset evokes a spiritual thanksgiving to the Indonesian sky.

The most charming piece, though, breaks the rule and combines both: the optimistic, melodic Pari Ru conjures North African communal dance and spirital rumination in equal measure.

The one blot on the soundscape occurs when Dr. Miller decides to speak for himself, rather than through his instruments. Lloyd’s Diatribe comes across like a psychedelic jazz version of Grumpy Old Men; his targets include jeans and how they are worn, taxes and the key of E natural. It’s supposed to be witty – it’s not, and it detracts from the rest of the album. (Or maybe that’s just me being a grumpy old man.)

Diatribes aside, however, (OST) is a satisfying and rewarding expedition along modes less travelled by contemporary western jazz music. Recommended.

close to 94 rating: ★★★★★★★

This review is part of close to 94‘s [emusic club], which reviews one album from the eMusic catalogue every week from a selection refreshed every month.

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