Story by Brad Walseth, Photos by John Broughton, Jr.
Dave Miller has made quite reputation as a guitar player here in Chicago who has the ability to play numerous styles from straight-ahead jazz to Afro-pop, as he demonstrated on Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls' recent “Seize the Time” (see our review of this Top-25 album here) and his tribute to Benny Goodman set with James Falzone at Jazz Fest. Although extremely gifted in these areas, Miller's specialty may be in creating effects-drenched soundscapes utilizing his guitar played through electronics. Like Bill Frisell and local favorite, Jeff Paker, but taking it even more into the outer limits, Miller paints with distortion - twirling knobs and pushing buttons to produce waves and bursts of distorted sound. His work with electronics can be seen with the group blink as well as with his Algernon group.
In Algernon, Miller is joined by bassist Tom "Dr. Pants" Perona (the only other member to have been with Miller from the beginning), guitarist Toby Summerfield, vibraphonist Katie Wiegman and drummer Cory Healey. Their third release, Ghost Surveillance follows 2008's Familiar Espionage and the band started off the evening with the new album's opener - the kinetic "The Briefing." Bursts of noisy guitar, powerhouse drumming and tight ensemble work were showcased on this number and set the tone for the night. The evening contained several pieces from the new album, including "Broken Lady" "Operative vs. Opposition" and "Objective Compromised" as well as favorites like "Eraserhead" and the incredible "Don't Press the Red Button" (both from "Familiar Espionage"). The music, meanwhile, was enhanced by a colorful light show projected on the musicians as they played.
Healey's drumming was highly vigorous yet impressively meticulous while Perona's solid and slinky bass lines kept everything centered and intact. Summerfield harmonized Miller's efforts and added counter and unison lines, even adding slide guitar on one number (although this was hardly "Sweet Home Alabama"). Wiegman's vibraphone also added lovely harmony and doubled melodic lines and her sweet tones are such a great contrast to the intensity of the rest of the band.
Of course, ever since Hendrix lit his guitar on fire, musicians have been looking to take their electric guitars to the brink with new sounds and Miller is a leading exponent of this approach. He is a master of using electronics to produce atmospherics ranging from chiming ring modulated tones to shimmering swells to sheer walls of distortion. Always one to explore new ideas, Miller at one point switched to keyboard and produced sounds not unlike wailing wolves.
Full of sudden and surprising dynamic ebb and flow, the compositions veered from nursery rhyme chimes to full frontal sonic assaults in compositions that adroitly combined the industrial with the organic. Somewhat reminiscent of prog rock heroes King Crimson, with a hint of Zappa, and at times calling to mind controlled mayhem, this noise-art rock configuration succeeded in making it an evening of exciting modern music, as the group presented this difficult, time-shifting music with admirable grace and persistence in their pursuit of finding order in the chaos and beauty in the noise.