Simon Millerd - Lessons and Fairytales [Songlines - 2017]Trumpet player, keyboardist, composer and bandleader Simon Millerd has released a lush masterpiece of an album, "Lessons and Fairytales", on Songlines, a label which has proven a haven for artfully crafted melodic modern jazz. Nearly all of my recent favorite works of jazz come from the Songlines catalogue, from Michael Blake's "In the Grand Scheme of Things" to the Bruno Heinen Sextet's reinterpretation of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Tierkreis".
At times, with a sweetly tuneful lounginess, Millerd conjures Return to Forever and 70's jazz fusion, with string bass and flute unisons. Elsewhere, he strays into desolate arctic soundscaping and subtle melancholic tonal realms befitting classical music or apocalyptic post rock.
With nine pieces mostly around four minutes in length, the album breezes by, brimming with ideas and diverse approaches, but always keeping a mood of relaxed contemplation, the music breathing comfortably, the musicians making space for each other. The piano and saxophone emerge as the primary melodic voices.
Mike Bjella's tenor saxophone is beautifully classic. He has obviously done his hard bop homework, channeling Coltrane, Dolphy, "Cannonball" Adderly and others with a labyrinthine scalar approach. As the album goes on, the band relaxes in tempo and energy level, settling into a series of comfortable ballads.
These ballads feature elegant, romantic playing from pianist Pablo Held, who has quite the gentle touch with accents and cascading flourishes. In general, one of the strongest suits of the band is their ability to add subtle melodic embellishments and ghost notes to every moment of the music, for an organic, swelling, sweeping elastic meter.
Vocals begin with track five, "Wherever You Are", with the ethereal rounded tone and tight unison one would often hear in vintage 70's jazz. The lyrics reflect the soothing energy of the music on the album, describing a feeling of restful belonging. The vocalist is perhaps the least impressive element here, with a less than charismatic performance, but does not detract from the music as a whole.
"Montreal March" features an elaborate, agile string bass performance from Robert Landfermann, sketching triplets and syncopations around the beat, achieving great complexity by being effusively melismatic, as most of the album does. The majority of the detail lies in the expressive, ornate solos, liberal with note usage.
The flute sounds are cleverly handled with a synthesizer, using such a high quality patch that the sound is nearly seamless.
This is one of the deepest, classiest and most melodically intelligent lounge albums I've ever had the pleasure of hearing, eschewing the cheese that many classic fusion albums indulged in for undiluted nectar. It may not be nearly as multigenre or new feeling as some of Songlines catalogue, but I would be hard pressed to name a more comfortable and confident example of this style. An absolute pleasure to listen to and absorb.Josh Landry