Dominic Miller: Absinthe (ECM 2614)



Dominic Miller

Dominic Miller guitar
Santiago Arias bandoneon
Mike Lindup keyboard
Nicolas Fiszman bass
Manu Katché drums
Recorded February 2018, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 1, 2019

The title of Absinthe, Dominic Miller’s follow-up to his 2017 ECM debut, Silent Light, harks to the early French Impressionists, whose all-in dedication to art is a philosophical touchpoint for the guitarist. To carry on that spirit, he could hardly have asked for a more eclectic yet integrated band. Bandoneon player Santiago Arias brings a sense of cross-continental shift that makes the world just a little smaller; keyboardist Mike Lindup adds a sometimes-surreal vibe that’s equal parts cry from the past and message from the future; bassist Nicolas Fiszman is the soil to Miller’s sunlight; and drummer Manu Katché, a remarkable impressionist in his own right, is time incarnate.

With such a massive scale to be reckoned with in theory, one might expect the results to be overpowering, when in practice the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic content is so evenly distributed between pans that by the end of each tune we’re left on an even keel from where we began. This is nowhere so true as on the opening title track, which spins a steady downtempo groove from the filaments of Miller’s solo introduction. The way his bandmates shuttle through the greater loom of the album’s concept is as intuitive as the compositions yearning for consummation. A certain feeling of inward travel continues in all that follows.

The quiet locomotion of “Mixed Blessing” and is as progressive as the tender “Christiana” is regressive, the geometrically inflected “Étude” as inviting as the open-ended charm of “Ombu,” the melancholy “Ténèbres” as dark as the transparent “Saint Vincent” is bright. The latter bears dedication to the late Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, a longtime collaborator with Paul Simon and something of a mentor for Miller.Even without such biographical details, these stories write themselves, unhidden, in real time. Binding their pages are shorter pieces, including the piano-rich “Verveine” and the haunting “La Petite Reine.” Into these we are afforded only fleeting glimpses, personal tesseracts whose potential for transfiguration can only be expressed in song.

Absinthe Portrait
(Photo credit: Gildas Boclé)

All of which makes “Bicyle” quintessential in the present milieu. Its pedaling motion is more than a metaphor; it’s an actualization of life’s unstoppable flow. For there, woven between each spoke like a playing card, memories fade into new experiences, squinting into the glare of a setting sun as the world curls into slumber.

Dominic Miller: Silent Light (ECM 2518)

Silent Light

Dominic Miller
Silent Light

Dominic Miller guitar, electric bass
Miles Bould percussion, drums
Recorded March 2016 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: April 7, 2017

As guitarist Dominic Miller recalls in this CD’s liner notes, when approached by producer Manfred Eicher to make an album for ECM, he discussed various musicians and configurations before deciding to go solo. Having grown up in Argentina, Miller was indelibly influenced by Latin American sounds, and counts Egberto Gismonti’s Solo and Pat Metheny’s Offramp as watershed listening experiences. Since living in the UK and now in France, he has worked with Phil Collins, Paul Simon, and Sting, among others, all the while developing his own voice. As Sting himself writes in a supplementary note: “[W]henever Dominic plays the guitar he creates colour, a complete spectrum of emotions, sonic architecture built of resonance as well as silence, he lifts the spirit into higher realms, perhaps those realms where silence reigns.” And perhaps no other combination of location, timing, and circumstance could have produced something that so beautifully lives up to that assessment.

In thinking about the genesis of Silent Light, Miller turned to percussionist and longtime collaborator, Miles Bould, whose applications seem born of the guitar’s deepest imaginings. As it happened, the night before the recording, Bould learned that the great Brazilian percussionist and ECM veteran Nana Vasconcelos had just passed away, lending the session heartfelt poignancy. That said, there’s so much joy to be found that one would need to listen most attentively to find a single tear.

The strains of “What You Didn’t Say” delineate an opening portal, beyond which personal interactions float along waves of gentlest memory, barely detailed by percussion amid Miller’s speechless legibility. So begins a journey of concentric circles, each a band of influence along the surface of the composer’s life. From the Venezuelan flavor of “Urban Waltz” and laid-back precision of “Baden” (dedicated to Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell) to the Celtic folk-inspired “Angel” and early 20th-century French stylings of “Le Pont,” a red thread of respect runs unbroken and with clarity of purpose to a tender, solo rendition of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold.”

If anything further unites these pieces, it’s that they all seem to follow—rather than issue from—the guitar as if it were a compass attuned to melodic north. One feels this especially in “Water,” “En Passant,” and “Chaos Theory,” the latter of which navigates shimmering harmonies by the addition of bass and drums for a feeling that is decidedly crystalline, transparent, and honest. Like the recording as a whole, it is intimate without being invasive, allows no room for misinterpretation, and is as comforting as waking up knowing the only thing required of you is to listen…and to love.