Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom Otis Was A Polar Bear on LP
Follow-Up To Drummer/Composer/Bandleader's Critically Acclaimed 2013 Album No Morphine, No Lilies
The most poignant music is often inspired by watershed events in an artist's life, and few occasions are more transformative than the arrival of one's first child. For Allison Miller, the extraordinary drummer, composer and leader of her band Boom Tic Boom, that life-affirming experience provided the seed that led to the creation of her new full-length studio album, Otis Was a Polar Bear. The album, with violinist Jenny Scheinman, cornet player Kirk Knuffke, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, upright bassist Todd Sickafoose, pianist Myra Melford, and Miller on drums and mallet percussion, is Miller's latest collection of 10 original compositions following her 2013 critically acclaimed No Morphine, No Lilies.
The birth of Miller's (and partner Rachel's) daughter Josie found the NYC-based drummer reordering her priorities and the very way in which she approached her art. As Miller settled into the parenting groove, as she resumed playing and composing she quickly realized that her art was naturally evolving to reflect the path her life had taken. Josie is the muse for her latest works, and Miller's compositions chart an inspirited soundtrack to the beginnings of a new life chapter.
Miller began writing Otis Was a Polar Bear during the summer of 2014 while touring with lauded singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant. Over the past few years, she has also been involved with Toshi Reagon and Dorrance Dance's The Blues Project, which features many of the world's finest tap dancers. The Blues Project reinvigorated her approach to the drum kit to be more akin with the movements of a dancer and renewed her connection to danceable grooves. Following the recording sessions for Otis Was A Polar Bear at Fantasy Studios (Berkeley, California) with producer Hans Wendl (Tin Hat Trio), she returned to New York City to work as the drummer for the national TV program, The Meredith Vieira Show.
Miller's approach to composing Otis Was a Polar Bear deviated from her previous work. Instead of exclusively composing on the piano, which is how she's always written, she utilized the bass (electric, upright), vibes, drums, guitar, and mini-keyboard (enabling her to write just about anywhere). On these various instruments, she discovered an entirely new sphere of exploration that matured her arrangements, allowing her to scribe specifically for each idiosyncratic band member.
Once in the studio, with guidance from Wendl, Miller allowed the compositions to come alive with each musician's intuitive feel and improvisational mastery at the forefront. Every track on Otis Was a Polar Bear tells a compelling story. The opener "Fuster" was written for Miller's daughter, Josie, and influenced by the Cuban artist José Fuster. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, "Staten Island" was inspired by the senseless and tragic killing of Eric Garner by the hands of the Staten Island police.
Among the other highlights, "Shimmer" was penned in the Philippines, as was "Pig In a Sidecar" – a song whose melody never repeats and builds to a crescendo. "The Listener" was written for a music-obsessed friend of Miller's who died suddenly, while "Hoarding the Pod" came about while Miller – in what she describes as an over-caffeinated state – was recording with Natalie Merchant. The album's closer "Lullaby For Cookie" is a lullaby written before Josie was born (she was nicknamed Cookie while still in the womb).