Think of the contrabass and the chances are that the name ‘Kent Miller’ may not be the first one that leaps to mind. But is ought to if one is an aficionado and also if one is thinking about what it takes to be not only a bassist but also a complete musician. By that, it means having flawless technique whether playing pizzicato or con arco – pristine articulation, the ability to paint sound with tonal colours from a very large palette – and the ability to make every note part of an emotional statement, whether playing solo or in an ensemble. Suddenly the population of contrabassists is dramatically reduced. This is when Kent Miller starts look really good and he has proved this once again with Minor Step.
Minor Step is a beautiful recording rooted in the blues, but it is much more that that too. This is a Jazz recording made the old fashioned way, with a quartet comprising piano, saxophone and drums. That, however, does not guarantee automatic success but Mr Miller is a renaissance man of Jazz. You hear this immediately in the elegant craftsmanship of the standard, “My Foolish Heart” with its no-nonsense melodic and harmonic beauty. But then soon that track after Kent Miller does something quite unique. He takes apart Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes”, already written in the Latin mode and he completely re-harmonises it with a breathtaking display of bass playing.
Listening to the tune you feel that you know it but somehow it is elusive even in its familiarity. And here’s why: Although Kent Miller attacks the harmony of the song by recognising each chord’s root, after having reduced the chord to close spacing he rearranges each as a stack of thirds. Here he also is not only clever and employs shortcuts to this: in inverted triads, the root is directly above the interval of a fourth, in inverted sevenths, it is directly above the interval of a second. And then he employs different chord types, such as chords with added sixths or chords over pedal points, more than one possible chordal harmony possible. It’s not a one off because in a solo shortly thereafter, on “Dexterity” a similar magic occurs.
But Kent Miller is never alone in making beautiful things happen in the music. Each time he steps out he carries the rest of the quartet with him. Benny Russell brings with him a large dry boom on tenor saxophone (“Liberia”) and an equally desiccated howl on soprano saxophone (“Minor Step”). As he quotes from classic Jazz music he seems to draw from the well-spring of men like Dexter Gordon and Charlie Rouse. The thunderous drumming of Greg Holloway is at once earth-shaking and almost fleet as it makes for much dancing and Darius Scott is marvellous as he chops and muscles his way masterfully through harmony and rhythm. This set is the epitomé of elegance and good taste; a classic date.
Track list – 1: Work Out; 2: Visitation; 3: Minor Step; 4: My Foolish Heart; 5: My Little Suede Shoes; 6: SOS; 7: Dexterity; 8: Liberia; 9: T’Sup Cuz; 10: Sisters; 11: Brother Ray
Personnel – Kent Miller: bass; Benny Russell: tenor and soprano saxophone; Greg Holloway: drums; Darius Scott: piano
Released – 2017
Label – TNEKJazz
Runtime – 1:08:22