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Artist: Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics

Album: Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics

Label: Strut

Review date: Aug. 3, 2010


Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics - "Electricone" (Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics)


Following tremendous praise for supporting Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke on the Inspiration Information, Vol. 3 collaboration last year, U.K. collective The Heliocentrics are back with a similarly minded but differently executed album backing multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist Dr. Lloyd Miller. Like last year, they accentuate what makes their collaborative partner so interesting. The Astatke collaboration was funky in the way it channeled African rhythms; this is funky in the way you can taste Miller’s Pan-Asian studies.

Unlike Astatke, who at least had the Broken Flowers soundtrack and enthusiastic support of a growing fanbase founded on Soundway compilations and blogs like Awesome Tapes From Africa, Miller’s momentum from this album is generated almost entirely by the backing band. While this may feel more subdued than the blaring trumpet solos and krar rock-outs of Inspiration Information, Vol. 3, his skill and versatility, coupled with The Heliocentrics’ reliably restrained backing, makes this album every bit as interesting for an entirely different reason.

As an appreciator of exotica jazz, it’s hard to find a better one-stop shop than Miller. Born to a family where his father played clarinet and his mother was a ballet dancer, Miller spent time in Tehran, Beirut and most of continental Europe before receiving a B.A. in Asian Studies from Brigham Young University and an M.A. in Persian Studies from the University of Utah. During this time, he developed a talent for playing santur, zarb, oud, sehtar, dan tranh and dam kim in addition to piano. Persistent touring over the years has helped him stay fresh as a septuagenarian. The origins of this collaboration can be traced to a Jazzman compilation out earlier this year called A Lifetime in Oriental Jazz, which netted an invitation to the U.K. to work with Nostalgia 77 and The Heliocentrics. The latter collaboration produced an EP, and further studio time in February 2010 led to the music presented here.

This doesn’t feel like the capitalization (or realization) of momentum generated from crate-digging oud comps, and the difference is immediately noticeable, as “Electricone” starts with drums rather than swirling horns or wildly strummed sehtar. It’s a sparse song with a light feel as woodwinds, piano and an oud color the percussion. In contrast, “Nava” feels less foreign, perhaps indicating more input from The Heliocentrics than Miller.

With songs only twice topping off over six minutes, the continuity from song to song is fluid even if the times on the tracklisting aren’t. This makes it easier to digest and revisit particular aspects of Miller’s stylistic turns. When the two parties are on top form and playing off of one another, as they are on “Pari Ru,” it is an exciting listen, and enthralling because you aren’t getting bludgeoned by noise. The sounds may change from one tune to another, but the overall feel is consistent.

The key to this album, then, is in the nuances. You won’t find a song that immediately jumps out at you (save “Lloyd’s Diatribe,” full of Cold War spy-like intrigue and low-boiling intensity from the moment it begins), but the reward is in seeing how The Heliocentrics once again adjust to the playing style and instrumentation of their collaborator. In this case, the London group help Dr. Miller make an excellent case for further exploration into yet another politically charged and musically rich region.

By Patrick Masterson

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