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Live at Unity Chapel, Keith Miller, double bass, Alla Voskoboynikova, piano. Keith Miller, "Bone of My Bone," "Changing," "Deuce," "Hope", "Lily"; Maurice Ravel, "Pavane pour une infante défunte"; Enigmatic Music, © 2012, TT 36:03, $10.00, available from Miller via his web site, from Amazon.com, and for download at all electronic music stores.
The largest and lowest register member of the stringed-instrument family has a significant role in the orchestra, a smaller one in chamber music, and a smaller one still in the solo repertoire in the classical world, but a long-standing one in the realm of jazz. Solo CDs by double bassists are few and far between. In the 20th century, jazz rhythms and styles began to be adopted and used in compositions by many classical composers such as Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky, to mention but a couple of big names, thus mixing things up and erasing previously clear and distinct boundaries. Greensboro, NC-based Keith Miller is admirably attempting to take this trend on into the 21st century. His pieces have clear connections to both worlds.
However, they are more closely connected to the classical one, because they are composed works, not transcriptions of improvisations. Miller states in his booklet note that his style is "hybrid," and indeed two of the pieces — "Bone of My Bone" and "Lily" — have a hint of bluegrass, and two others — "Changing" and "Deuce" — have a bit of a New Age feel. Three, "Bone of My Bone," "Hope," and "Lily" are for solo bass; the three others are for bass and piano, and the two forms basically alternate throughout the program. All are primarily serious, contemplative or meditative in mood; not much is lively and upbeat other than a few moments in "Deuce." Miller does not fall into the common trap of playing Ravel's "Pavane…" too slowly, taking 5:12 minutes. As Ravel was known to have quipped, "It's a pavane for a dead princess, not a dead pavane for a princess." It's a stately dance, not a dirge; the composer plays it in 5:05 in a 1923 take. Miller is presumably the author of the transcription?
While the music is interesting and pleasant, and the playing first rate — Miller displays excellent command of his instrument and includes a wide variety of playing techniques in the works — the presentation of the CD is not very professional. It is more the length of a single than of an album; Miller would have done well to flesh it out with some classical works for his instrument that complement his own compositions, and perhaps add more variety to the whole. The repertoire is not large, but there is one, including works by Giovanni Bottessini in the 19th century and some works commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky in the 20th, both renowned double-bassists, and undoubtedly some written earlier in the 18th, or perhaps even in the late 17th. Other appropriate transcriptions would also be candidates for fleshing it out.
In addition, the enclosed leaflet is incomplete. There are no timings for the individual tracks or descriptive notes about the individual pieces, only a personal note indicating their inspirations: friends and relationships, facing a photo of the artist. The cover features a color one of the interior ceiling of the St. Louis, MO, Lutheran chapel, and the back cover, a close-up "mug-shot" of Miller. The bio on his web site is not reprinted, nor is there any info about the pianist anywhere. A minor quibble: the format of the title of the Ravel "Pavane…" is incorrect; the above listing shows its correct form: French titles put only the first noun and any preceding article in upper case.
Consequently, the product comes across more as a souvenir for attendees of the recital or for fans and friends of the artist than as a viable commercial offering for the classical music marketplace. Although the recorded sound is good, there is applause at the beginning and end and between all the pieces. He writes of the pieces telling stories and reflecting personalities of his friends, but for me they did not speak narratives or evoke people. The average listener does not know his friends or about his relationships, so the music must stand on its own merits. This music does, and it is unfortunate that the CD presentation is so amateurish.