You could see it coming. Boom Tic Boom’s four previous records – each a bit more elaborate than the last, each amplifying the grace that’s an essential part of the ensemble’s successes, and each providing a clear view of the leader’s thrillingly fluid drumming – are like bread crumbs leading long-time listeners to this new jewel. On its 2010 debut the band documented itself as a trio (albeit with a one-track visit from fellow traveler Jenny Scheinman); bassist Todd Sickafoose and pianist Myra Melford were all Allison Miller needed to buoy her clever themes and explode her shifting rhythms. Then the violinist became a full member, after which Ben Goldberg’s clarinets and Kirk Knuffke’s cornet were added to give the group a truly novel front line. 2016’s Otis Was a Polar Bear was impressive if a tad scrambled: wide-angle entertainment that stressed variety and nodded to humor while keeping a serious eye on the art of improv.
Glitter Wolf employs all the musicians mentioned above, but levels up the eloquence by providing the kind of focus that isn’t defined by restrictions. The sextet’s scope remains broad, but the tunes have more in common, and their “familial” relationship accents almost all of their particulars. A counterpoint groove on one piece might hark to a dance rhythm that sailed by earlier. A lilting theme such as “Vine and Vein” could re-conjure the pastel panache of “Zev – The Phoenix.” By the time the title track struts through its garden of polyphony, erupting with a joyous expressionism that Miller sometimes keeps under wraps, it’s tacitly high-fiving the bouncy uproar of “The Ride.” Knuffke’s genteel bray and Goldberg’s basso gurgles are twin sons of different mothers. Scheinman’s jitters share DNA with Melford’s flighty fingerings. Connections abound.
We live in a world where individualized tracks are likely to have more impact than a full program. But I consider Miller’s latest stream of sound to be one long song – it needs to be absorbed in full. Striking a blow for unity and balance, Glitter Wolf proves the “long-player” ain’t dead yet.