Renowned jazz drummer, composer, teacher and bandleader Allison Miller is back with a new album, the first since 2013’s acclaimed No Morphine, No Lilies. Alongside a top notch band in Boom Tic Boom, Otis Was a Polar Bear catches Miller at a watershed moment in her life, not just as a growing musician, but now as a parent. Drawing great inspiration from her daughter Josie, Miller explains the departure from her last album to this most recent studio effort. “The last record was about such intense hardship and pain. This record is the other side of all that—it’s the beauty that comes after a storm.”The album opens with the bright, sultry Latin flair of Ben Goldberg’s charming clarinet play on “Fuster.” Inspired by Cuban artist José Rodríguez Fuster, the composition has its origins rooted in everyday life, this particular track, an unshakable melody Miller had sung to Josie in the first weeks of her life. Likewise, “Hoarding the Pod” comes from an over-caffeinated state during a recording session with Natalie Merchant. Its frantic, supercharged intro takes a backseat to a mellow groove supplied by Miller, finally giving way to the controlled chaos of Jenny Scheinman’s violin boiling over, Kirk Knuffke’s cornet beaming and Myra Melford making it rain piano keys.With a beautiful and thoughtful pairing of “The Listener” and “Lullaby For Cookie,” Miller delicately bridges the gap between life and death, the former written for a music-obsessed friend who died suddenly, while the latter was written for Miller’s daughter Josie before her birth. Miller’s relatively minimalist approach on these arrangements packs a significant punch.The album’s title track, “Otis Was a Polar Bear” evokes great imagery, not unlike the Melford-lead “Pig In A Sidecar” or “Shimmer.” Scheinman’s playful strokes and plucks on “Otis” are accented by Knuffke’s and Goldberg’s summit of brass and woodwinds while Miller and upright bassist Todd Sickafoose fill out a highly active and invigorated rhythm section.“Slow Jam” certainly lives up to its name. Miller’s simple, elegant groove is guided through the slow burner by a steady bass line and fantastic interplay with Melford and Knuffke. Miller’s final selection,”Staten Island,” was written after the tragic killing of Eric Garner by Staten Island police. “I sat down at the piano feeling hopeless and filled with rage. This is what came out,” Miller says. As in the case of Garner, there are a lot of moving parts to this track. Scattered flurries from Goldberg’s clarinet are mirrored by Milford’s frenzied piano before Miller is finally set off like a stick of dynamite into a righteous rock groove. When the groove begins its descent it’s left with only the sombre notes of Knuffke’s waning cornet.From traditional rock and jazz themes to the avant-garde variety, Allison Miller’s Otis Was a Polar Bear will present something of significance for the ear of any listener, whether the casual jazz fan or the most hardcore fan of fusion. Her chops are undeniable as is her ability to compose and elevate the separate links of her band in a way that reflects a focused and unrestrained sound.Otis Was a Polar Bear is set for release April 8 on Royal Potato Family. You can watch a behind the scenes video on the making of the album below, and don’t forget to check out Miller’s upcoming tour dates, as she and Boom Tic Boom will be out on the road this coming spring.Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom Spring 2016 Tour4/8 Seattle, WA @ Royal Room 4/9 Portland, OR @ Alberta St. Pub4/10 Arcata, CA @ Kate Buchanan Room HSU 4/14 Santa Cruz, CA @ Kuumbwa4/15 Los Angeles, CA @ The Blue Whale4/16 Berekely, CA @ Freight and Salvage4/17 Half Moon Bay, CA @ Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society4/27 Bloomsburg, PA @ Bloomsburg University4/28 Erie, PA @ Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture: Walker Recital Hall4/29 Lewisburg, WV @ Carnegie Hall4/30 Roanoke, VA @ Jazz Club at Jefferson Center5/1 Baltimore, MD @ Creative Alliance5/3 Charlottesville, VA @ Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church5/5 New York, NY @ Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola5/6 New Haven, CT @ Firehouse 125/7 North Adams, MA @ MASS MoCA5/8 Goshen, MA @ Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares: Institute for the Musical Arts5/13 Philadelphia, PA @ Ars Nova Workshop: Philadelphia Art Alliance5/14 Washington, DC @ Kennedy Center: 21st Annual Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival7/1 Iowa City, IA @ Iowa City Jazz Festival
A couple accused of abandoning their 8-year-old adoptive daughter has pleaded not guilty to the charges after they say the 8-year-old was actually an adult posing as a child and that she tried several times to kill members of the family.The incident occurred back in 2010.Michael and Kristine Barnett who already had three children of their own, decided to adopt Natalia who they believed was an 8-year-old from Ukraine who suffers from a rare form of dwarfism.When the family got Natalia home, however, they say there was signs that Natalia was not who they believed she was and that she was much older than 8-years-old.The family says that the child spoke English and did not have an accent that was consistent with her being from and living in the Ukraine.They also said that Natalia had pubic hair, menstrual cycles, and suffered from mental health disorders that usually develop when a person is in their teens and 20s.In addition to that, the family says Natalia was violent towards them and both threatened and attempted to kill or harm them on several occasions.In an interview with Good Morning America, Michael told reporters that Natalia would put clear thumbtacks on the stairs face up so they would step on them. At another point, she also poured Pine-Sol cleaner into Kristine’s coffee and attempted to push Kristine into an electric fence.Michael also says that Natalia admitted that she was trying to kill Kristine.In 2012, the couple somehow had the girl’s age legally changed to 22-years-old before moving Natalia into her own apartment in Indiana in 2013. The rest of the family moved to Canada so that the couple’s eldest son, a physics prodigy, could study at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario.During the investigation, the Barnett’s told authorities that they paid rent for Natalia’s apartment for a year, set her up with Social Security disability income, and food stamps but did not provide any other care for her.Court records show that Natalia was evicted from the apartment in May of 2014 and in September of that same year, Natalia contacted police and claimed that the Barnett’s abandoned her.The Barnett’s are now facing two counts of neglect of a dependent which they have plead not guilty to. A jury trial date has been set for Jan. 28, 2020.Prosecutors say that they are positive that if “due justice” is done, the Barnett’s will not be vindicated of their charges. They also brought up that two bone scans done on the girl in 2010 and in 2012 prove that her Ukrainian records were correct and that the couple abandoned the child who was also deemed mentally ill.Other records in 2016 state that when a new family petitioned for guardianship of the girl and attempted to get her original birth record restored, Michael showed up to the hearing with a doctor and a lawyer and that particular judge sided with Michael’s case.Natalia, who is either in her teens or in her 30’s, has not been charged with any crime.While it is unclear where Natalia is currently residing, several news outlets say she remains in the care of the couple who petitioned for guardianship over her in 2016.