Canadian Juno award winning saxophonist Joel Miller has spent most of his life happily ignoring convention. Be it Jazz, Latin, Classical or Pop, Miller fluidly crosses boundaries, fusing a tapestry of fragments into a new and unique sound. When we hear it though, the music is familiar, comfortable. Miller’s aesthetic is intricate and idiosyncratic, but the work, for lack of better words, sounds right.
On his latest recording “Dream Cassette”, the saxophonist’s irreverent spirit is in full flight. At first glance, the vinyl length album (a comfortable 45 minutes) is a tribute to the 1980’s pop music of the New Brunswick native’s youth. But “Dream Cassette” reaches deeper, plucking memories of skateboard culture, and the striving for perfection therein... ”Shredding” as Miller calls it.
“That’s what got me into Jazz”, Miller notes, “it’s very close; the focus you need to perfect a new skateboard move, and what I put into perfecting on my horn. They really went together, they were both virtuosity, a kind of anti-mediocrity”.
An even closer look at “Dream Cassette” reveals a poignant loss in the musician’s life; an unanswered tragedy that he could only respond to in music. “My nephew Isaac was only 14 when he died, and I wanted to capture what he gave to me in his short life”, Miller explains. Indeed, a photograph of the teen taking flight on a skateboard was the catalyst for the project, sparking memories of Miller’s own youth. The photo became the basis of one of the album’s most head-turning tracks, “Streamlined”. Penned by Miller and creative partner Sienna Dahlen, it perfectly reflects the album’s eclectic and infectious style with a driving rock beat, and hum-able acoustic interlude.
Singer Sienna Dahlen is the perfect foil for Miller; her emotionally enthralling delivery swirls together with Miller's tight arrangements in a confluence of oceanic current. Indeed, Miller found himself singing in the studio, a departure for the Jazz saxophonist. "Sienna sings and writes with such poignancy, but I'm always so optimistic", Miller reflects, "so the album in some way is kind of a search for wholeness, for me I think it was a way of healing".
“Dream Cassette” is a recording that begs to be played over and over on a long car ride, and perhaps that is the only way to grasp its uniqueness. True to form, Miller’s work ultimately defies description. Best to strike out on a trip with the recording and plenty of time. Or, perhaps don your cassette Walkman, and hop on a skateboard - that is, if you remember how.
Let Joel Miller remind you.