Concert Review: “Rivers In Our Veins” Allison Miller @ The Local, 10/28/2023
Waterways and rivers have perennially inspired musicians across a myriad of genres. Notable songs that spring to mind include “Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II, “The River” by Bruce Springsteen, “Take Me to the River” by Al Green, and the traditional “Red River Valley.” Composer, drummer, and bandleader Allison Miller, known for her work with Brandi Carlile, Dr. Lonnie Smith, the jazz band Artemis, and leading her own group, Boom Tic Boom, has now decided to contribute her musical interpretations with the suite “River In Our Veins.”
The piece was performed continuously, sans interruption, by a combo that featured drums, piano, violin, bass, clarinet/contra-alto clarinet, and trumpet, supplemented by a tap dancer and a modern dancer. It drew inspiration from five rivers in the Eastern United States: the Susquehanna, Hudson, Potomac, James, and Delaware.
The suite opened with “Of Two Rivers Parts 1 and 2,” wherein the Susquehanna is depicted musically with horns and violin that illustrate the river’s origins from two branches—one starting in Pennsylvania and the other near Cooperstown, New York. Various accents provide commentary on the scenery, both natural and manmade, alongside historical and present-day movement, with interpretive and tap dancing adding visual elements.
A piano introduction by Carmen Staaf followed by Jenny Scheinman’s violin provided an aural representation of water’s fluidity.
“Hudson,” Allison’s homage to the river most familiar to those in area code 518, commenced with Klezmer-like horn lines that then transitioned into a folk-influenced violin. The themes alternated, with bass and snare driving the piece forward and piano carrying the melody, culminating in Jenny Scheinman’s pizzicato playing.
“Fierce” loomed menacingly over the listener, seemingly depicting the various human struggles alongside a river, eventually morphing into a fusion piece with a strong bass and drum presence, interspersed with individual violin and contra-alto clarinet solos.
“For the Fish” was lighthearted, dominated by tap dancing, the snap of the snare, and the interplay of the horns, all hinting at a traditional New Orleans influence.
“Blue Wild Indigo” carried Latin jazz influences.
“GO” was another groove-centric piece, beginning with a South Asian-influenced riff from the horn section that swiftly evolved into a contemporary New Orleans sound.
“Shipyards” drew inspiration from the shipbuilding industry and the labor movement’s struggles within this pivotal sector, particularly along the James and Delaware Rivers. Ben Goldberg initiated the piece with didgeridoo-like sounds, followed by Jason Palmer’s trumpet—both offering musical renditions of industrial machinery. This section was followed by irregular rhythms simulating shipwrights and stevedores at work, articulated by piano, bass, and violin.
“Riparian Love” is a musical depiction of riverbanks, painting the intimate space where land and water merge.
“Potomac” was inspired by the triumphant concert given by Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, a significant event in the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Dancing Tide” served as the finale, encapsulating the ebb and flow of all these rivers, each shaped by the tide, and incorporating all the instruments and dancers in a majestic culmination to this ambitious suite.
The suite was commissioned by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, with support from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s Jazz Touring Network, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The recording is available on Royal Potato Family, as well as on Apple Music and Spotify.
- Allison Miller – Drums
- Jenny Scheinman – Violin
- Jason Palmer – Trumpet
- Ben Goldberg – Clarinet, Contra Alto Clarinet
- Carmen Staaf – Piano
- Todd Sickafoose – Upright Bass
- Luke Hickey – Tap Dancing
- Maleek Washington – Modern Dance