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No Morphine, No Lilies: Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom

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True to its name, Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom wastes no time revealing its fondness for shaking, rattling and rolling. On the opener, “Pork Belly,” we’re greeted by Todd Sickafoose’s huge, bottom-heavy bass tones and the leader’s deep, voluptuous groove on drums. Pianist Myra Melford pecks and jabs at the stop-start melody, feeds the song’s undercurrents with her streaming, bluesifying notes and we’re off.

But Boom Tic actually lowers its boom throughout No Morphine, No Lilies, its second album. Flexing her Erwin Helfer-meets-Don Pullen-meets-classical recitalist sensibility, Melford dances through Lisa Parrott’s “Six Nettes,” a dashing, open-ended tribute to Ornette Coleman, and “The Kitchen,” her own crashing and burning original. And with choice contributions from violinist Jenny Scheinman (a member of the band but present only on select tracks), slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, trumpeter Ara Anderson and cellist Erik Friedlander, Miller never settles into any one style.

With seamless ease, she ranges from freebop to foursquare swing, from heartland narratives (Rachel Friedman singing about an Iowa flood on “Once” by Jessica Lurie) to urban reflections (“Sun Comes Up the Reservoir,” Miller’s lyrically sweeping remembrance of the late Paul Motian). A drummer with charisma to burn, Miller also conveys her love of playing via tributes to two other departed stick men, San Francisco great Eddie Marshall and her onetime teacher Walter Salb. But there’s never any fear of sentimentality dimming the bold vitality of this music.

Originally Published