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New fusion album from The Odd Dogs

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    Posted: 07 Jan 2019 at 1:57am

THE ODD DOGS is a group of A-list, Los Angeles jazz musicians. Their debut CD, BENEATH THE SURFACE, showcases their top-notch musicianship and compositional talents. The quintet includes bassist STEVE BILLMAN, guitarist JEFF MILEY, saxophonist and keyboardist ANDY SUZUKI, drum maestro RALPH HUMPHREY, and percussionist BILLY HULTING.

The genesis of the group goes back five years when Billman and Miley teamed up to write songs. Billman has been playing professionally for 40 years. He's performed with Frank Gambale, Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, and Brian Bromberg, among others. He also performed with and wrote for the jazz/rock supergroup "Continuum," recording three albums over his 15-year tenure with the band.

Besides leading his own modern jazz chamber quintet called "BUG," Miley records and performs with popular jazz vocalist Inge Swearingen and is concurrently involved in several other projects as well. He's been featured in jazz magazines around the world, and he's received the Andres Segovia Performance Award from the American Guitar Society.

Billman and Miley have been friends since the 1980s. "Jeff is an old friend, and I thought it would be a blast to write with him," says Billman. "We have different but complementary strengths, and when we started writing together, something clicked. It felt magical."

After writing a few tunes, they wanted to hear their music in performance, so Ralph Humphrey was brought on board to play drums. Humphrey has a long and storied career. He's worked with a Who's Who of well-known jazz and mainstream artists, including acts as diverse as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Barbra Streisand, and Bette Midler, Wayne Shorter, Al Jarreau, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Pete Christlieb, among many others. Billman, Humphrey and Miley teach at the Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena.

Billman and Miley originally envisioned their group as a power trio, but not long after they started rehearsing their music, Billman got an email from Andy Suzuki, who had been living in Berlin for several years, where he performed with Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Marcus Miller and Jan Garbarek. Suzuki was returning to the States, and Billman jumped at the opportunity to enlist him in the band. Suzuki is a double threat, playing both woodwinds and the piano, which he does on this CD, often overdubbing his performances on multiple instruments.
After more rehearsals, Billman and Miley thought there was still a missing element, so they called upon Billy Hulting, an acclaimed percussionist and mallet player who has recently been touring with Zappa Plays Zappa, a band led by Dweezil Zappa that performs the music of Frank Zappa.
Although Billman and Miley began composing these pieces several years ago, it took a while for the music and band to evolve. And because these musicians are so busy performing and teaching, it also took a while for everyone's schedule to sync up to actually make this recording. The result is well worth the wait.

Billman and Miley both cut their musical teeth back in the '70s on progressive rock, a genre that merged high and low culture by employing instrumentation and compositional techniques usually associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. The genre also focused on highly developed technical skills. BENEATH THE SURFACE is a jazz project that strongly reflects the influence of the progressive rock era.

The compositions on this CD are deeply complex while also being melodic and engaging. When Suzuki was explaining the complicated structure of the title tune to his wife, she said that it didn't sound that complicated to her. He responded that the complexity lay "beneath the surface," which became the title of the tune and of the CD.

The music of The Odd Dogs is built on a rich tapestry of uncommon, constantly changing meters and surprising harmonic textures. "Presence Unknown," the opener, starts off with a funky groove in 13/8 time and features a section reminiscent of Pink Floyd, with Suzuki playing different woodwinds to create layers of sound. "Failure to Authenticate" moves from 11/8 to 15/8 to 4/4 time and echoes everything from Tool to Rush to Jeff Beck. "Title 5," which was written by Humphrey and Miley is an uptempo jazz-influenced number, while "The Beast" is a smoking Texas-style guitar blues with a broken meter. "Monkish" is a swinging tune with a melodic line that one could imagine being played by a Zappa band channeling Thelonious Monk.

The members of The Odd Dogs are all old friends who admire each other's musical skills and enjoy each other's company immensely... which is a good thing, since the compositions on BENEATH THE SURFACE require a very high level of skill and collaborative spirit to play convincingly. As Miley says, "Both the writing process and the act of performing these compositions are satisfying for me because they're rhythmically advanced and harmonically rich. I get to do some rock-type playing while navigating jazz harmonies with people I hold in the highest regard."

BENEATH THE SURFACE is available at Amazon, iTunes and online everywhere.

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