All About Jazz – June 2007
Eminent British Canterbury progressive-rock guitarist Phil Miller always plays the right notes. He doesn’t dazzle you with supersonic and heavily distorted riffs. On the contrary Miller sports a markedly distinctive style amidst his all-encompassing jazz, rock and jazz-rock vernaculars. Revered for his participation in seminal prog bands such as National Health, Matching Mole and other projects too numerous to cite here, Miller is a consummate director of musical affairs. His discriminating integrations of whimsical, Canterbury rock era-like thematic forays bestow one of many compelling attributes. The chemistry behind this band’s presence on Conspiracy Theories is firmly rooted within sinuously enacted unison lines, featuring horns, keys and Miller’s resonating single note licks. Longtime band-mates Pete Lemer and Fred Baker, on keyboard and bass respectively, help provide a fertile undercurrent for the addition of several highly respected British hornists, who expand the group’s overall design. Yet the gist behind this outing resides within the layered horns and off-kilter shifts in strategy, where dynamics and heated improvisational exercises project a cohesive maxim. Lyrically rich solos by trombonist Annie Whitehead and tenor saxophonist Simon Picard often complement the band’s surging opuses as melody plays an important role in Miller’s compositional guiding principles. Baker’s “End Of The Line” merges a dream-laden soundscape with Didier Malherbe’s (of Gong) ethereal lines, zealously counterbalanced by Lemer’s fuzz-toned electric piano phrasings and Miller’s gliding, sustain-drenched notes. It’s a ballad augmented by an ominous disposition and lucid imagery—perhaps a dad teaching his sibling about the rigors of youth and learning comes to mind. On “Orinaca (anagram for Ocarina),” Malherbe renders a poignant ocarina motif, contrasted by Miller’s low-key and bluesy progressions, which segue into a catchy, world-music vibe. Ultimately, Miller’s notable sense of diversity is uncannily cycled into a singular group sound that melds the fabled hierarchy of 1970s Canterbury stylizations with a modernist groove. And that alone speaks massive volumes. With his latest incarnation of In Cahoots, Miller furthers the scope and sound of the preexisting factors that have placed this unit at the pinnacle of the jazz-rock realm. No doubt, this album should find its way onto upcoming top ten lists for 2007. Miller glowingly separates the listless wannabes and copycats from the proven warriors, largely transmitted with fluid power and a thrusting impetus.