Personnel: Allison Miller (drums, percussion); Jenny Scheinman (violin); Ben Goldberg (clarinet); Kirk Knuffke (cornet); Myra Melford (piano); Todd Sickafoose (upright bass).
Audio Mixer: Adam Muñoz.
Recording information: Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA; Grand Street Recording, Brooklyn, NY.
Coming off an intense and emotionally rough period that surrounded the recording and release of 2013's No Morphine No Lilies, drummer Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom is in upbeat, adventurous form on 2016's Otis Was a Polar Bear. Which isn't to say that she and her bandmates weren't game for adventure on No Morphine No Lilies. On the contrary, the group found its footing on that album born out of a tumultuous year that included Miller taking care of her sick girlfriend, two of her bandmates having babies, and Miller drawing attention, some unfairly negative, for a Huffington Post article she wrote about being a lesbian feminist in the jazz world. All of which brings us to Otis Was a Polar Bear. Inspired by the birth of her daughter, Miller's compositions have a wide-eyed, exploratory feeling. It's as if all of the tension of the past few years was suddenly released in a set of lithe, highly unpredictable songs. Helping to draw out this childlike energy are her longtime bandmates pianist Myra Melford, violinist Jenny Scheinman, and bassist Todd Sickafoose. Also augmenting the ensemble this time out is the gregariously talented front line of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and clarinetist Ben Goldberg. Many of the tracks on Otis Was a Polar Bear have a mutative quality as the ensemble winds its way through different feelings and textures in a given track. "High T" starts out with a fractured Thelonious Monk-like interplay between Knuffke and the band that soon makes way for several roiling, exploratory solos. Similarly, the sultry funk of the aptly titled "Slow Jam" marries angular R&B tension with a film noir melody. Elsewhere, "Fuster" fuses Eastern European folk music with a dance-inducing Latin montuno-driven midsection and "Shimmer" sounds like the inner workings of a mechanical clock set to music. Ultimately, Otis Was a Polar Bear feels like the work of a band whose members have weathered a storm together and emerged more united and joyful than ever. ~ Matt Collar