PREMIERE: Lloyd Miller – ‘Dystopia Wind Dance’: spiritual beauty from master of Persian jazz

Lloyd Miller

LLOYD MILLER is a polyglot, fluent in English, French, Persian and Dari, that being the Afghani Persian tongue; getting by in German, Swedish, and a few other languages; a multi-instrumentalist, reportedly at ease with three figures’ worth of different instruments at the last count; and a true statesman of not just jazz, but spiritual, Eastern jazz. He is, in short, quite the guy.

He cut his jazz teeth playing in ensembles with musicians touring Europe, such as trumpeter Don Ellis; threw himself into studying jazz and the Middle East; established himself not only as a respected musical authority in that musical sphere in pre-revolutionary Tehran, but even hosted a popular television show, Kurosh Ali Khan Va Dustan, and worked there as an arts critic.

He first got his name up in lights as far back now as 1961, on the self-titled Jef Gilson Septet Avec Lloyd Miller album, a private press French 10″; which, ker-ching, the only copy available on Discogs currently is yours for a mere £995; his Oriental Jazz set, from ’68, was seminal and sought after, receiving an Italian repress just last year; in 2010 he recorded a beautiful and sultry set with The Heliocentrics (whose latest album, incidentally, is a trippy treat – read our review here).

And he’s returned with a new set which, if Paul Horn, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, any of the other geniuses working with jazz forms influenced by musics from the cradle of civilisation – well, which frankly you’re gonna need.

Today at Backseat Mafia, we’re somewhat honoured to be premiering a track from his new set, At the Ends of the World, which is out on FOUNTAINavm this Friday, October 30th. 

He recorded this new work in a trio with collaborators Ian Camp and Adam Michael Terry in the basement of his home in Salt Lake City. It’s an album that both reveres and reinvigorates his oeuvre so far by splicing in touches and nuances taken from the fields of ambient, minimal, and contemporary classical; or, to use the demotic, it’s a melodic leftfield cracker.

Lloyd’s first and abiding instrumental love is the piano; and it’s on this he sets out the framework for “Dystopia Wind Dance”, whil cradling an oud on his lap, switching back and forth and even playing both simultaneously. There’s bells and beautiful, lilting woodwind, all brewing up the thrumming atmosphere of the air currents outriding a storm; the gusts, those first, fat warning drops.

Collaborator in chordal consonance for this album, Adam Michael Terry, says: “On that particularly melancholic night in August 2019, we were exploring ideas with Lloyd on the Persian oud – known as one of the predecessors to the modern guitar. Ian accompanied on upright bass with a bow, and myself softly creating ambience with brushes in the background.

“An improvisational conversation took place within a Middle Eastern mode of a very moody sort. Down in that basement studio bunker, tales of apocalypse and pestilent prophecies hung in the air and waved like the dystopian flags of some future primitive society. 

“Much of our gatherings during this recording period started off with Lloyd informing us of recent world developments that appeared to him to be signs of the brewing apocalypse, so the energies during these sessions were a strange dichotomy of impending doom and a spiritual optimism to combat this turmoil with beauty and musical healing. You hear all of this in this song.

“Lloyd simultaneously played piano and oud on the initial take, switching back and forth and even strumming the archaic 11-string instrument at the same time while playing his futuristic electrical piano with his other hand, technique effortlessly tying a tapestry of time and technology, while creating an atmosphere of equal parts terror and tranquility.

“Ian gently bows the bass, building tension with meandering singing phrases and gives periodic releases with rhythmic slaps across the strings. He plays a beautiful solo that invokes the movements of a mysterious woman in the desert flats, with silk robes dancing in unison with the dystopian wind blowing in.

“Additional multi-tracks were recorded to fulfil the songs needs. Lloyd adds some howling wooden flute moments, and I provide some percussive rhythm as the world of this song shapes into a grooving conclusion. I added the kalimba and vibey chimes to encourage an optimism and brightness to the dynamic yet desolate soundscape. 

“‘Dystopia Wind Dance’ remains as one of my favorites on our record. It embodies everything special about ‘Doc’ Miller. An array of geographical instruments, intangible sensibilities, and unforgiving timelessness. This song of any on the album, acts as a terrific thesis for this particular project and could be renamed as the title track.”

Lloyd Miller’s At The Ends Of The World will be released by FountainAVM on digital download and vinyl next Friday, November 6th. To order your copy – and it’s a Persian jazz sonic treat – visit the label’s Bandcamp page, here.

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