Solent | w3 | Still | Gut Feeling | Ripped Nylon | Racine | Sharp Object | Chanson I | Marignane | Chanson II | November
Dominic Miller, Sting’s guitarist for decades, went into the studio for “ad hoc” with a bunch of trusted colleagues like bassist Lars Danielsson, percussionist Rhani Krija or Albanian soprano Eda Zari almost unprepared and then wondered how exciting ad-hoc symbiosis of modern jazz, contemporary classical, electronic and ethno beats has become. Der Spiegel
There’s a surprise in store for all those who have been Dominic Miller’s fans from early on. Whereas up to now he has been mostly admired and hailed for his exquisite accoustic sounds produced with a nylon guitar, the artist now baffles both the audience and experts with the first electronic album of his solo career. His latest release, “November,” offers plenty of space for the electric guitar. Some of the tracks show the more rock-oriented side of Miller, with an at times astonishingly powerful sound. Living proof are tracks like the literal slammer “Rippled Nylon” or “W3”, steeped in fuzz.
There is a good reason for this change of heart. In the autumn of 2008, Miller, who has made London his home, had taken some time to listen more closely to all of the CDs produced so far and had then realised that most of them were more focused on a dense sound rather than being compositionally dense. Only one of his solo albums was an exception: his debut album, “First Touch.” Miller reminisces: ‘That album represented all the influences I had absorbed up until 1995 when I was 35 years old. I created it after coming home from the “Ten Summoner’s Tales” tour with Sting. It was kind of a musical autobiography. I wanted to recreate the space I was fortunate to be in when I recorded “First Touch”. All I remember about that process was a feeling of freedom. I felt like the album wrote itself, as if it were being dictated to me. In other words, I just joined the dots. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say it was a “gift from God”, but that’s how it felt at the time.’
To Dominic Miller, “November” is ‘like a re-written autobiography which goes beyond “First Touch”.’ To capture these ‘memories put to music,’ he started from scratch, as if he had never been inside a studio before: ‘I cleaned house and went back to zero again by putting those four albums behind me.’ Before starting with the actual production, the gifted guitarist took his time in order to be really sure about the direction he was going to be taking. He analysed the various approaches, only to finally decide that it was high time for a course correction. The result was a band lineup without a vocalist. However, such an instrumental formation also had its inherent dangers and restrictions: ‘One runs the risk of sounding like a second rate fusion or jazz-rock band. God forbid! I won’t mention any names but I have received some such records from some very well-known instrumentalists. After one listen, their only uses have been scraping the frost off the windscreen of my Peugeot 206 in the winter months. Many of these records are mostly, if not all, about the playing, not the composition. Their authors are like great actors with average scripts. I was determined that composition needed to be king.’
To reach this goal, Miller briefed all the colleagues involved: ‘Don’t give me any personality and let the tunes play themselves!’ It was not at all easy to find musicians willing and able to go along with these wishes. But finally Miller found session partners in drummer Ian Thomas (Eric Clapton, Seal, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones), bass player Mark King (Level 42; uncontested master of the slap bass) and keyboarder Mike Lindup (equally known through Level 42), who agreed to put their egos last. To this core of musicians he added Israel-born pinaist Yaron Herman, who now lives in France, as well as keyboarder Jason Rebello (Sting), flautist Dave Heath (a renowned composer of flute, violin and oboe concerts) and sax player Stan Sulzmann (Kenny Wheeler, Michael Brecker, NDR Big Band) – all of them well-versed top professionals who put their distinctive musical personalities on the back burner and devoted their skills uniquely to Miller’s compositions.
With these devoted sidemen to back him up, Miller created an instrumental album that presents all kinds of unexpected turns, stylistic variations and distinctly innovative sound combinations. Rock (“W3”, “Ripped Nylon”), New-Age meditations (“Still”), lounge music (“Solent”), soundscapes (“Gut Feeling”), funk (“Sharp Object”), references to classical music (“Chanson II”) and jazz moments (“Marignane”) are moulded into an indiosyncratic style of contemporary instrumental music.
The album was produced by Dominic Miller and Hugh Padgham, who have been virtually inseparable ever since working on Phil Collins’ multi-million seller “But Seriously” (1989). In the past twenty years, they have cooperated on many a project, and they trust each other blindly. ‘Hugh understood what I was after so he was the obvious choice of producer,’ explains Miller. ‘He gets a killer sound.’
When it comes to the actual production process, “November” turned out to be the ‘quickest’ album Dominic Miller ever made – all previous albums took longer. The writing took a mere three weeks, the recording and mixing were even done within a mere fortnight. Almost 90 per cent of the performances on the album are first takes. ‘I wanted to get away from the pro-tools perfection way which allows one to manipulate anything and everything,’ Miller explains the fast working method and his decision to allow more spontaneity into the studio. ‘Therefore, there are some imperfections with timing, tuning and articulation. Normally I would fix these but this time I let the performances live the way they were.’
“November” adds another highlight to Dominic Miller’s impressive artistic biography. Born in Buenos Aires to an American father and an Irish mother, he studied guitar at the renowned Berklee College, Boston, as well as the Guildhall School Of Music in London. Miller released several solo albums (“First Touch”, “Second Nature”, “Third World”, “Fourth Wall”) and since the late 1980s has also been a much coveted session musician. The list of his collaborations is sheer endless – to name but a few: The Chieftains (“Long Black Veil”), Eddi Reader (“Mirmama”), Manu Dibango (“Wakafrika”), Paul Young, Bryan Adams, Luciano Pavarotti, Peter Gabriel, Pat Metheny, Tina Turner (“Wildest Dreams”), The Pretenders, Boyzone and The Backstreet Boys. Ever since “The Soul Cages” from 1991, Miller has been involved in every album by Sting; he has played more than a thousand concerts with the former member of The Police and was involved in the composition of hit songs such as “Shape Of My Heart. ”
With “November,” Miller yet again proves that he is a top-notch guitarist. The exceptional musician plays with an ease and somnambulistic confidence that words simply cannot express appropriately. His willingness to move beyond his artistic skills is what distinguishes him from other virtuoso contemporaries – Dominic Miller has moved on from the level of ’mere’ skillful performance and perfected craft. These days, he is more focused on expression, on the beauty of a certain sound and the truth of the moment. His transcendence of the physical is a trait that singles him out as one of the chosen few.