Lisa Miller Octet
Sleep Furiously (Green Ideas)
The initial sound you hear on Sleep Furiously is the eerie, high-pitched plaint of a violin, but it takes only seconds before this fragile calm is ruptured by a furious assault of noise guitar. That serves notice that the Lisa Miller Octet’s CD debut is going to be uneasy listening.
The first movement of “I Cry” is also indicative of Miller’s musical intent as a whole. She’s a hard-hitting jazz pianist when she wants to be, but she’s also working on a degree in composition at UBC, and with this band she’s found a way to combine her interest in improvisation and her fascination with abstract structure. Her all-star octet is essentially an avant-jazz foursome joined by a string quartet, and its music continually moves between sophisticated atonalities and more visceral explorations of sound’s outer limits.
Be warned that these compositions—which Miller and her band will revisit at the Western Front on Friday (March 14)—are dark and strange. On “Scribble Talk”, for instance, the pianist has transcribed her young son’s baby babblings as part of her score, but the effect isn’t childish; it’s alien and otherworldly. There are some relatively sunlit moments—the bluesy wail that emerges in Sleep Furiously’s title track, or the fusion-esque chromatic passages that animate “Green Ideas”—but this is a record that demands not furious sleep, but furious concentration. Trust me, though: it’s worth it.