The band is: Phil Miller (from Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on guitar and synth guitar, Pete Lemer on keyboards, Fred Baker on bass, Mark Fletcher on drums, Simon Picard on saxophone, Simon Finch on trumpet and flugelhorn, Annie Whitehead on trombone, Didier Malherbe (from Gong) on saxophone, flute, doudouk and ocarina, Doug Boyle on guitar, Dave Stewart (from Egg, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on tuned percussion, Barbara Gaskin on vocals, and Richard Sinclair (from Caravan) on bass.
With a line-up of seasoned pros like the above, one must expect the music is going to be excruciatingly tight and slippery slick. It is.
The horns waft and sway with amiable emotion. Maintaining a very jazzy disposition, the horn section delivers tasty riffs with delightful expertise. Comfortable melodies are imbued with molten passion. The saxophones wail with cheerful melancholy. The trumpet warbles with earnest fervor.
Enchanting riffs spill from the guitar with glorious agility. Each note is meticulously placed to elevate the entire instrumental gestalt. And when the guitar gets the chance to elbow its way into the spotlight, the glory becomes ecstatic and amazing.
The keyboards provide delicate embellishment to the melodies with often dramatic sweeps. Nimble-fingered chords slide into wondrous melodies that serve to connect the other instruments’ riffs.
The percussion is skillful and knows exactly how to drive from a submerged vantage. Never too strong, never too elusive, the rhythms fit perfectly between the rest of the notes.
The basslines are intricate, fluid, and lend particular nectar to the tunes.
These compositions are dazzling and engaging. Their ability to immediately put the listener at ease is eminent. While steeped in Canterbury roots, this music is very straight-ahead jazz, merging old school traditions with modern delivery. The result is mesmerizing and rewarding, with wide appeal.
By Nic Jones
Maybe it’s not fair to refer to guitarist Phil Miller’s times as a member of British bands Delivery, Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North as that was all some decades ago. But the fact of the matter is that the often very straightforward nature of the music on this one loses out in comparison with those names. Whereas once the music was alive with quirks and all, the diffidence that could be mustered when playing in a time signature of say, 7/4, very little of that kind of thing seems to ruffle the surface of the polite fusion on offer here.
This is not however to suggest that the music doesn’t have its moments. The line of Miller’s “Press Find Enter” has a quality that embraces both light and shade, and trombonist Annie Whitehead‘s solo seems to tease that quality out with equal measures of both joy and trenchant wit.
The broken time of “5s & 7s” has a similar stamp to it and the enhancements of Barbara Gaskin‘s minimal wordless vocal contribution and alto sax played presumably by Didier Malherbe lift it out of the realm of the polite and make it memorable.
“Orinaca” also has an individual air about it, not least as a result of Malherbe’s work on ocarina. Keyboard player Pete Lemer‘s deft touch colors the line nicely and the result would fit nicely particularly within the Hatfields context.
Miller has always been a guitarist of distinction, and it’s thus sad to relate that there are times here when it’s like he’s absent from his own disc. On the Weather Report-like “Flashpoint,” bass player Fred Baker gets his turn in solo and underscores that comparison with a display of Pastorius-like dexterity. For all of Baker’s formidable technique the listener might just be left wondering what Miller would have made of the opportunity had he taken it himself.
On the lengthy “End Of The Line,” Miller does come out of the ensemble for one and it’s like the sun coming out on an otherwise cloudy day. All the hallmarks of his work are still in place—his idiosyncratic phrasing, his sense of economy, before the demands of a fusion idiom in which technical precision and ‘correct’ virtuosity are of overriding importance seem to regain the upper hand.
Overall, the old one about those who like this sort of thing really liking this sort of thing applies here.
Whatever you might make of the Canterbury scene these days, it’s not the same anymore, there’s not much progressiveness in it now, which is not to say it’s worse than it was before – but Phil Miller‘s band were latecomers anyway. With a new album to mark the group’s 25th year in the business, they bring on the top-notch fusion, the title track wrapping round the listener’s ears like a cosy pillow to lay a head on and rest yet not sleep, only drift away. Save for brooding “Crackpot”, the main man tends to keep behind his reeds-blowing cohorts – veterans such as Didier Malherbe and Annie Whitehead as well as Simons Finch and Picard – for most of the time, and when he sends a tune to wallow amidst the waves of Fred Baker’s bass he also sends the shivers down the spine. Thus, the elegy that’s “End Of The Line” descends as a delicately electrifying sensation where Pete Lemer‘s piano sings so poignant. It’s clearly the effortless endeavour for the players, and all the better for it, so it’s tempting to rush headlong into the breezy romp of “5s & 7s” and do the groovy African walk in “Orinaca”. So whatever the conspiracy is the secret is not advised to be kept.
Miller first came to note in Robert Wyatt‘s post Soft-Machine band, Matching Mole. Since then he’s built a great catalogue of tunes, particularly with his “In Cahoots” band, which has released eight albums since 1985. “Conspiracy Theories” is extremely melodic, gentle music without being muzak-y in the slightest way. The Canterbury sound always embraced melody, and this album is the result of decades of playing, listening and composing. No doubt this is a fusion release, but in the best sense, and if all fusion had followed such magnificent form the genre would be less panned by many a listener an critic. The pieces on this CD show some incredibly tasteful, lovely playing over thoughtful and unhurried music from musicians who know how to lay back and say what’s on their mind at their own pace.
Eminent British Canterbury progressive-rock guitarist Phil Miller always plays the right notes. He doesn’t dazzle you with supersonic and heavily distorted riffs. On the contrary Miller sports a markedly distinctive style amidst his all-encompassing jazz, rock and jazz-rock vernaculars. Revered for his participation in seminal prog bands such as National Health, Matching Mole and other projects too numerous to cite here, Miller is a consummate director of musical affairs. His discriminating integrations of whimsical, Canterbury rock era-like thematic forays bestow one of many compelling attributes. The chemistry behind this band’s presence on Conspiracy Theories is firmly rooted within sinuously enacted unison lines, featuring horns, keys and Miller’s resonating single note licks. Longtime band-mates Pete Lemer and Fred Baker, on keyboard and bass respectively, help provide a fertile undercurrent for the addition of several highly respected British hornists, who expand the group’s overall design. Yet the gist behind this outing resides within the layered horns and off-kilter shifts in strategy, where dynamics and heated improvisational exercises project a cohesive maxim. Lyrically rich solos by trombonist Annie Whitehead and tenor saxophonist Simon Picard often complement the band’s surging opuses as melody plays an important role in Miller’s compositional guiding principles. Baker’s “End Of The Line” merges a dream-laden soundscape with Didier Malherbe’s (of Gong) ethereal lines, zealously counterbalanced by Lemer’s fuzz-toned electric piano phrasings and Miller’s gliding, sustain-drenched notes. It’s a ballad augmented by an ominous disposition and lucid imagery—perhaps a dad teaching his sibling about the rigors of youth and learning comes to mind. On “Orinaca (anagram for Ocarina),” Malherbe renders a poignant ocarina motif, contrasted by Miller’s low-key and bluesy progressions, which segue into a catchy, world-music vibe. Ultimately, Miller’s notable sense of diversity is uncannily cycled into a singular group sound that melds the fabled hierarchy of 1970s Canterbury stylizations with a modernist groove. And that alone speaks massive volumes. With his latest incarnation of In Cahoots, Miller furthers the scope and sound of the preexisting factors that have placed this unit at the pinnacle of the jazz-rock realm. No doubt, this album should find its way onto upcoming top ten lists for 2007. Miller glowingly separates the listless wannabes and copycats from the proven warriors, largely transmitted with fluid power and a thrusting impetus.