The Chicago trumpeter with hip-hop and indie-rock bona fides steps out
as a bandleader, shepherding 18 musicians across a complex, soulful
album that celebrates interconnectedness.
When Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper
tapped into their cities’ homegrown jazz scenes, it proved mutually
beneficial for the rappers and their collaborators alike. Their breakout
works were strengthened by a century-old musical heritage, and newer
jazz artists like Kamasi Washington and Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment
got the chance to shine on their own. Over the past few years, Chicago
trumpeter Will Miller has shared the stage with everyone from Whitney to Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky to the late Mac Miller.
Taking lessons from indie rock and hip-hop and infusing the resulting
hybrids with his own sensibilities, Miller now steps out as a bandleader
with Resavoir. His group draws on the tradition established by other fine Chicago jazz-inflected exports over the years (Rotary Connection, Tortoise, Earth, Wind & Fire) while also pushing beyond categorical boundaries to create a debut that is soulful and ear-catching.
Like his fellow International Anthem labelmate Makaya McCraven,
Miller deftly draws upon spontaneous improvisation and methodical
studio wizardry alike, melding the two practices together (as well as 18
different players) to create an amalgam stronger and sweeter than the
sum of its parts. On “Resavoir,” he toggles between crisp beats and
sunny 1960s pop, expertly arranged jazz-funk and experimental electronic
textures, but its five minutes feel breezy and conversational rather
than overstuffed with details. Subtle but deft jump cuts detour from
soaring to meditative and back, with plenty of room for instantly
hummable horn charts as well as field recordings of gulls and airy vocal
harmonies that drift like afternoon clouds. It’s a complex piece of
songcraft that also feels dreamy and sunlit.
On standout “Taking Flight,” harpist Brandee Younger evokes both the ethereal glissandos of Alice Coltrane
and the head-nodding soul-jazz of Dorothy Ashby. In surrounding Younger
with expertly arranged horns and a crackling backbeat, Miller pays
tribute to predecessors like Charles Stepney and Richard Evans, the
Chicago producer/arrangers who thrillingly blurred the lines between
pop, soul, R&B, and jazz in their heyday.