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Donald Miller: Transgression!!! (VDSQ)

Review of solo acoustic album by the longtime Borbetomagus guitarist

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Cover of Donald Miller album Transgression!!!
Cover of Donald Miller album Transgression!!!

Throughout its decades-long reign of skronk, OG free-jazz/noise power trio Borbetomagus hasn’t gotten much love in JazzTimes. Until now. Unabashedly DIY and championed by fans like Sonic Youth cofounder Thurston Moore, guitarist Donald Miller and saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich combined the spiritual uplift of Albert Ayler and the sheer force of Peter Brötzmann with the gnarly noise of New York’s no-wave movement. Their influence still reverberates, but their activity is on the sporadic side these days. That’s given Miller the opportunity to serve up a solo endeavor, which has an impact similar to Borbeto’s punishingly loud wall of sound, minus the ear-piercing volume.

Transgression!!! is a sublime and rugged representation of forward-thinking contemporary guitar music and fits neatly into the fabric of what VDSQ, the acoustic-geared label responsible for its release, is all about. Miller might be slinging a 12-string acoustic instead of a beat-up electric, but his style is still in-your-face, a display of fret-hurdling wizardry that falls between warped cosmic blues and the freethinking of the NYC avant-garde. Recorded in Miller’s hometown of New Orleans, his mangled abstractions sound like something you’d hear at John Zorn’s venue, the Stone.

American Primitive guitar pioneers such as John Fahey and Robbie Basho lend inspiration, but the six outsider-folk meditations on this album operate on their own messy terms. Miller puts his guitar through the wringer here, spewing out ecstatic constellations of riffs that are as unpredictable as they are revelatory. Transgression!!! will no doubt appeal to fans of Bill Orcutt (of Harry Pussy fame) and late guitar greats Jack Rose and Davey Williams, to whom Miller dedicates two songs.

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