October 1st, 2010
Title: Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics
Artist: Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics
Label: Strut Records
Formats: CD, mp3
Date: August 3, 2010
On the heels of Strut’s successful award-winning pairing of the UK psychedelic electro funk/jazz ensemble The Heliocentrics with East African Ethio jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke last year, the label decided to pair this British band with another enigmatic cosmopolitan jazz legend – Lloyd Miller. Casting off their electronic edge, for this project The Heliocentrics provide a deep, organic, and hypnotic Afro-Arab acoustic funk that flows and swings with agility behind the exotic tones and textures of Miller’s multi-instrumental explorations of Persian modalities and colors.
Miller is not just another jazzer attempting to jump on the world music bandwagon, but rather he is deeply committed to the foreign, namely Persian and Asian, musical traditions that give his brand of global jazz fusion a profound depth and authenticity. In fact, Miller has been mixing Middle Eastern music with jazz since the late 1950s, when he moved to Iran with his family. Building on his background as a Dixieland clarinetist and pianist, Miller studied with Middle Eastern music masters such as Dr. Daryush Safvat and Mahmoud Karimi, developing talents on multiple Persian instruments. He first showcased his unique Eastern-infused jazz on his seminal recording Oriental Jazz from the 1960s, which has since become a cult classic for global jazz connoisseurs and can now be heard on A Lifetime in Oriental Jazz, a recent compilation CD put out by the UK label Jazzman.
During the 1960s, while completing his BA and MA degrees in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, he toured extensively in Europe, working with noted jazz artists Eddie Harris, Don Ellis, and Jef Gilson. After receiving a Fulbright-Hays grant to conduct research for his PhD, Miller spent seven years in Tehran, where he hosted a successful weekly TV variety show under the name Kurosh Ali Khan. Simultaneously, Miller was also an art writer/critic for many publications in Iran, Beirut, and London. Throughout his career, he has also worked tirelessly to promote and preserve traditional Persian music.
In the last several decades, Miller has continued to build his reputation as an award-winning scholar, composer/arranger, and performer, working closely with the Utah Symphony Orchestra as well as giving lectures around the world.
On this latest release, many of the more extensive tracks posit the ancient Arabic tonalities of a traditional Persian flute, dulcimer-type zither, and string instruments with solidly swinging Mingus-style bass ostinatos and Afro-Cuban Elvin-esque drum grooves. On several tracks, as if battered by the desert sands of Arabia, the slightly off-tune piano lends to the exotic flavor of the Middle Eastern modes. Melismatic runs up and down these Persian scales echo throughout the recording, creating an intoxicated swirl of sonic bliss. Interspersed as several short interludes, metallic Asian gongs and bells provide a haunting, resonant, yet tranquil Eastern oasis.
Recalling the profoundly spiritual work of John or Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders (to name a few), this album offers listeners a journey across sonic, cultural, and religious landscapes as well as modes of consciousness. The fresh funk fusion sensibilities of The Heliocentrics re-invent and re-invigorate a jazz master who deserves to be heard by old and new generations alike.
Reviewed by Paul Schauert