Dominic Miller ‘Absinthe’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Born in Argentina, guitarist Dominic Miller was raised in the US from the age of ten and then educated there and in England. His international mindset has only been deepened through decades of touring the globe, working with the likes of Paul Simon, The Chieftains, Placido Domingo and, most often, Sting. Now living in the South of France, Miller’s music takes on a distinctive Impressionism, with the ambience of the region and the friendship of the musicians involved, flowing colourfully through this engaging recording.

“Absinthe” is Miller’s second album for ECM. Whereas the first, “Silent Light” emphasised solo and duo settings, this latest release is a quintet outing, featuring Santiago Arias on bandoneon, Mike Lindup on keyboards, Nicholas Fiszman on bass, and Manu Katché on drums. Produced by Manfred Eicher in the studio of La Buissonne, in Peres-Les-Fontaine, Miller switches comfortably between nylon and steel string acoustic guitars, and the crystalline sound of the recording truly enhances Miller’s thoughtful compositions and the band’s harmonious interplay.

The title track opens the album, with Miller’s guitar immediately evoking the spirit of Egberto Gismonte. The characterful sound of guitar and bandoneon work exceptionally well together, and as the tune develops with the unmistakable sound of Manu Katché’s drums alongside the deep bass and fluttering synth, the narrative of Miller’s writing begins to unravel. “I was on tour in Buenos Aires and I went out on a night off to see a jam featuring some top local musicians.” recalls Miller. “They were all pointing out this young bandoneon player. Witnessing Santiago play – this acoustic, non tango indigenous Argentinian music, mixed with European influences- I felt a spark. I wrote the music of “Absinthe” with the timbre of his instrument and his sense of space in mind.”

A couple of my favourite tracks fall in the middle of the album, “La Petite Reine” and “Christiania” both reminding me of an early ECM era Pat Metheny. The first of these two tunes could have been a tune penned by Metheny for his “New Chautauqua” album, whilst the latter wouldn’t sound out-of-place on the Metheny/Mays classic “As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls”. I love the lilting presence of Miller’s steel string guitar here, with a natural, ambient feel gently breaking through like rays of soft sunshine through broken grey cloud.

Miller has enjoyed hearing Manu Katché’s rhythmic and colouristic touch in his ear for decades, and it’s the drummer’s uniquely engrossing sound that sparks into life on the lyrical “Etude”, with the full quintet creating a drifting, satisfying collaborative effort. Katché teams up well with bassist Fiszman, especially on tracks like the free-flowing “Ombu”, a track named for a tree in Argentina with vast roots. The closing tune “Saint Vincent” has more of a folk-pop tinged feel to it, with its uplifting ambience building a perfect picture of warmth, light and harmony.

“Absinthe” captures a certain mood, one of breezy, sunny, contemplative days in the rolling countryside. Or perhaps a mood of kinship, where old friends share alcoholic drinks, revelling in tall tales and times passed. An album to chill-out to, and one that will make you feel at home as soon as you hear it.

Mike Gates