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Skate Or Groove: Boom Tic Boom at An Die Musik, March 27

April 1, 2010

Allison Miller

Boom Tic Boom, the quartet that came to An Die Musik Saturday, features two of the more gifted jazz musicians in New York City these days: Bill Frisell’s frequent violinist Jenny Scheinman and Marty Ehrlich’s frequent pianist Myra Melford. But the group was led by a third woman, drummer Allison Miller, who named the band after her brand new album, which features Scheinman, Melford, and bassist Todd Sickafoose. This combo was together for only a short, week-long tour, and Baltimore was lucky to be the final stop.

Miller wasted no time in bringing the name of her album and quartet to life. Her unaccompanied introduction to the opening number, “Cheyenne,” was full of booms from the toms and bass drum and tics from the cymbals and snares, arranged in syncopated, alternating patterns that suggested not just a new dance but also a new tune.

A small, muscular woman with an odd hairdo that resembled the prow of a ship, Miller had an immense sonic palette at her disposal—both the experimental clicks and scrapes of avant-garde jazz but also the robust grooves she has played on tours with Peter Gabriel and Rachel Z, as well as the subtle shadings she has used behind such singer-songwriters as Ani Di Franco and Natalie Merchant. When she twisted that varied vocabulary into her own compositions, she created not only new rhythmic figures but also a hint of melody.

Scheinman and Melford seized on those hints with gusto. The violinist, a tall, lanky woman in a black-and-white-striped top, added an East European feel to the minor chords of “Cheyenne” and sliding squeals of joy to “Big Lovely,” a tune Miller wrote for Toshi Reagon. The pianist, a tiny woman with tight red curls and a shiny gold jacket, added a harmonically disorienting reverie to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rocking Chair” and karate-chop accents to Miller’s herky-jerky “Fead.”

The drummer explained that her composition “CFS” referred to “Candy-Flavored Sidewalk” and her memories of skateboarding down Sixth Avenue in Manhattan at three in the morning. The piece displayed that convention-defying spirit as Melford plucked at the strings inside the piano while Sickafoose and Miller created a racket of rattling and plucking. Soon, though, the tune coalesced into a rocking groove, and that was when Scheinman entered with an elegant violin line, gliding over the rambunctious beat like a skateboard over a pockmarked New York street.

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