Fresh Air, Duncan Millar Scroll down for more reviews, and also within reviews.
His name, face and music are extremely well known and recognized on the other side of the pond, but for many of us on this side of the globe, Duncan Millar’s invigorating 2013 album Fresh Air, is simply what the title infers. Like a refreshing, rejuvenating breeze across the Atlantic, Millar is one of the freshest new sounds to hit the contemporary jazz charts in 2013. Before exploring his new release on his own record label, Warmday Records, it should be noted that the keyboardist/pianist is not unfamiliar with chart and worldwide success. He was one half of the U.K. pop-dance duo Blue Mercedes which had notable success on the Billboard Dance charts in the late 1980s, including their number one hit “I Want To Be Your Property”. Millar late went on to produce dance tracks for other acts, before hitting the recording studio himself to record an acid jazz album and two smooth jazz records. With such an impressive resume and inarguable talent as a writer, producer, and musician, Millar gives the contemporary jazz genre a release of innovatively blended jazz, chill, and acid jazz overtones. Millar is simply brilliant in every aspect of the project with piano/keyboard melodies, arrangements and precision production talents, backed up and by an exceptional group of studio musicians who innovatively complement every one the 10 tracks on Fresh Air. The title song is fun, fresh, bouncy, and an ultimate ‘feel good’ and as close to pop music boundaries as smooth jazz can get, perhaps a tribute to Millar’s own ingenuity and success in the pop-dance genre back in the day. Jacko Peake’s mellifluous sax playing and the electronically altered vocals of Dennis Charles provide instant and endless enjoyment to Fresh Air. Some exotic Latin vibes take control of Buenas and Ilhabela, while Millar graciously opens to the door to the ‘chill lounge’ on several tracks including Belmondo and Cool Blue. Every track is meticulously arranged and self-produced by Millar and Fresh Air is intoxicating with a definitive mood and attitude. In fact, Fresh Air is so eclectically cool, it’s literally hot.
It’s been too long since we’ve heard the infectious grooves and melodic keys playing of Duncan Millar, who released two well-received Smooth Jazz CDs more than a decade ago on legendary Instinct Records. But the U.K. native and MOBO nominee is officially back and better than ever with the aptly titled FRESH AIR! Add the skills of one the U.K.’s top talents along with a musical mix of influences including Samba, funk and even waltz, and you have a well-rounded project perfect for repeated listening. The first single, the title track “Fresh Air,” is upbeat and oh-so-catchy, with backing sax from Jacko Peake. Mostly, though, the CD explores sensual and laid-back grooves, from the eye-closing sweetness of “Ilhabela,” the after-hours vibe of “Belmondo” and the smooth, jazz-club feel of “Subcontinental.” Millar varies his acoustic playing with electric piano, as well as Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer organ runs. It all adds up to a remarkable Smooth Jazz CD from someone who’s been gone too long. Welcome back, Duncan!
Those familiar with the UK dance and acid jazz circuits will need no introduction to composer, arranger and keyboard player Duncan Millar who enjoyed success on the club scene with the track ‘Void’ (featuring vocals from Kim Mazelle) and with his acid jazz project A One that made some waves on US radio with the single ‘West By Southwest’.Millar’s album credits include his 1998 solo debut, ‘Dream Your Dream’ and ‘Good To Go’ that followed three years later. Now, after way too long, Duncan has re-emerged with his latest release ‘Fresh Air’. It’s an ultra smooth collection of ten all new compositions that are built around Millar’s cool playing on piano and keyboards but afforded added depth by input from an array of fine backing musicians.Take for instance the feel-good title cut that includes a nice contribution on sax from Jacko Peak and equally good work on guitar from Mark Vandergucht. In fact Peak makes significant contributions throughout and none more so than when he switches to flute for the mellifluous ‘Southern Sky’. Laced with a zesty Latin vibe that has the power to intoxicate, the song shares this characteristic with both ‘Buenas’ (which is given wonderful texture by the percussion of Pete Eckford) and ‘Ilhabela’ where the interplay between Millar and Peak is again top notch.
Muted trumpet from Alex Bonney paves the way to the ultra mellow ‘As Lovers Do’ and although ‘Autumn Mood’ has a quality which is entirely evocative of the season often described as that of mists and mellow fruitfulness, its the retro tinged ‘Subcontinental’ that returns Millar to closer to his acid jazz roots.
‘Belmondo’ is not only where smooth jazz meets late night lounge in the most enticing of ways but also a serious contender for Smooth Jazz Therapy top tune. Equally good is ‘Blue Cool’ that purrs along on a delicious mid tempo groove yet, all things considered, a real personal favorite is ‘Get What You Give’. Vitalized by subtle backing vocals from Dennis Charles and without doubt the most upbeat number that ‘Fresh Air’ has to offer, this is a track with the potential to attract cult status.
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard anything from keyboardist/pianist Duncan Millar, but Fresh Air, his upcoming release (Feb. 12) on his own new label, Warmday Records, makes the wait worth it because it’s so very interesting.With clean, crisp, and finessed tracks, Millar has returned on a mission…to establish a somewhat new direction. On his previous recordings, he chose the road most travelled — though it’s a road loved by so many –, that rhythmic, funky, high-steppin’ groove we fondly call smooth jazz. While Millar is still in the smooth jazz ballpark, he has adjusted the mood here to one of a softer, romantic, often exotic atmosphere, a lot of it being just right for lovers.Millar piles up track after tasteful track on this album that displays a decent amount of savvy. Lots of upfront, cool keys.
There are lots of moods here, but they all suggest chillin’ out. For example, there is the smooth and bouncy “Southern Sky” which offers one mood while “Belmondon” offers romance and reflection.
Interestingly and ironically enough, the track “Blue Cool,” which could have been an appropriate title for the album, has a bit of a sassy edge to it. You could probably say the same, but to a lesser extent, about “Subcontinental,” a handsomely melodic piece indeed.
Another mood might be the title track with its subtle funk and bounce. Then, there’s also the exotic path on “Buenas” displaying a bossa nova twist with saxman Jaco Peake adding some punch with his tenor sax. More of that Brazilian cool is found on “Ilhabela,” a tune as gentle and swaying as the island breezes, again with Peake offering some sharp sax work.
Millar ends this otherwise chilled-out eclectic jazzy project with an up-tempo feel-good piece called “Get What You Give.”
An album full of nice surprises — if you’ve kept up with Millar — this is an appealing, chilled-out change that most can embrace, I’m sure.
In Our CD Players This Month
Peter Boehi: British keyboardist Duncan Millar has released a new CD after a hiatus featuring tons of memorable tracks, he is supported by the best UK players, and his keyboard playing over cool grooves results in another brilliant album. Don’t miss it!
Dennis Poole: “Get What You Give” by Duncan Millar from the CD Fresh Air. Vitalized by subtle backing vocals from Dennis Charles and without doubt the most upbeat number that the collection has to offer, this is a track with the potential to attract cult status.
• London-based pianist and composer Duncan Millar plays with an open, bright sound and fleet feel evoking the greats-from Oscar Peterson to Herbie Hancock. Jazz Times, December 1998• Duncan Millar brings boundless energy and fleet fingerwork to his keyboards on the irresistibly high-spirited release Good to Go. Millar and his band convey adventure, elegance and optimism through a range of styles. Jazz Times, October 2001
• Duncan’s keyboards are a real joy as they weave their melodies through some very tight arrangements, ……….cries out for long sunny drives with the soft-top of your choice. Essential listening. It just gets better and better. Echoes Magazine UK, October 2001
• I’m hooked – oh, this is lovely! Do you drive a convertible – what are you waiting for? Buy this and play it loud. I love the album, there’s not one track I don’t enjoy. On the sleeve photo, Duncan Millar looks like a young guy – I for one hope he’s making music this good for a long time. Smooth and Soul, Sept 2001 (www.smooth-jazz.de)
• I liked his debut album, but Good To Go is even better. As a DJ one usually has a choice of 2 or 3 tracks from a recording that are good enough to give Air Play to, but Duncan Millar has a 10 for 10 on this recording.. 10 Tracks equally good, pleasant to listen to… 10 Tracks of bright crisp beguiling jazz,.. upbeat, yet controlled. A nice contribution to the music world. Jazzreview.com (www.jazzreview.com)
• Millar is “good to go” on this one and his international fan base is sure to stay satisfied if he keeps moving in this righteous musical direction. Allmusicguide.com, June2001 (www.allmusicguide.com)
• On Good To Go, the London native finds a funky groove and goes with it. The classically trained pianist drew his inspiration from Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and the like, and does well at the helm of an acoustic piano. Millar’s created a rarity: a smooth jazz album with soul. Corpus Christi Caller Times, May 2001
Amazon Customer Reviews
Avg. Customer Review: 5 stars
• Well, what an absolute pleasure – I’ve been listening on and off for about a month now and the album just grows and grows on me. Mellow and soulful, I find this album a delight and can’t wait for May when Duncan releases his next.
• This is a must own cd for anyone that appreciates piano playing with a jazz twist.. I can’t get enough of this album. I played it so much that it scratched. I had to buy a second one. The first one wasn’t even two weeks old.