10 songs – 41 minutes
French harmonica virtuoso Greg Miller makes a stunning debut with this sweet, sensual disc on which he delivers everything from traditional mainstream Chicago blues to blues-tinged jazz in a refined café society style that’s popular in Europe but rarely heard on this side of the Atlantic.
He attended the Paris Harmonica School at age 19 after teaching himself how to play two years earlier. He trained internationally with Canadian Carlos Del Junco and compatriot Nico Wayne Toissaint before immigrating to the U.K., where he founded the London Harmonica School, quickly established himself as one of the fastest rising talents in Europe. That notoriety was well deserved. Miller was honored by Britain’s National Harmonica League, which named him its player of the year in 2011 and jazz world harmonica champion.
Now in his early 30s, Miller accompanies himself on vocals with only the slightest of accents. His delivery is breathy, but strong and clear. He attack on the reeds is reminiscent of Sugar Blue’s jazzier stylings when he returned to the U.S. in the late ‘70s after a lengthy stay in France. Miller uses a well-controlled single-note attack and a light touch as he delivers most of the material here. But when he shifts in to straight-ahead blues mode, it’s clear that he understands the style because his delivery is dead on target.
He’s joined here by Hannah Olive, who handles some of the vocal chores, Giulio Romano Malaisi (guitar), Fran Okine (bass), Alessandro Cineffi (drums), Alberto Manuzzi (keyboards) – who shares songwriting credit with Miller on everything you’ll hear here, Anna Rawlings (trumpet) and Ross Moore (trombone). And making guest appearances on one cut are guitarist Davide Mazzantini, bassist Enzo Strano and drummer Loris Peverani.
Listen to the first few notes of the first cut, “Prison In My Head,” and you’ll wonder what all the hype is about. Miller tricks the listener with a few very simple chords as he breathes in and out on the diatonic harp. The sound is almost childlike in nature. But once he launches into the song a few notes later, it’s clear he means business. The musical hook is sweet and tender. The tune is a breezy jazz in blues scale with a familiar feel, and it describes Miller’s difficulties adjusting to life in a different culture.
Rawlings delivers “Down To The River,” which comes across with a Delta feel. Miller’s attack comes in the form of whole notes and small chord runs behind the vocal as Hannah’s alto delivers her yearning for a man who’s no longer around. Miller’s mid-song solo is brief, but soaked with feel as it builds tension throughout. The sound returns to Euro jazz for the delightful “Paris Melody,” a pastiche of songs germane to the City Of Lights. His technique changes as he flows effortlessly from one segment to another, aided by a beautiful, simple guitar solo from Malaisi.
Miller attacks the high reeds like few folks in America for “Dreamer,” another jazzy blues with a melody with a comfortable, familiar feel. His tone is round and clean as he glides from note to note. Rawlings handles the vocals again for “Queen Of Blues,” a slow and steady song of forbidden love delivered with a gypsy feel and featuring an extended piano solo, before “Blues, My Woman And Wine,” a traditional Chicago blues delivered in a classic manner. It features Mazzantini, Strano and Peverani making their sole appearance.
The Parisian jazz feel returns for the instrumental “Funky Man” with Miller channeling Blue closely, borrowing slightly from one of Sugar’s melodies, but reworking it into a tune all his own, before delivering “The One That I Am Lovin’,” a modern blues with a definite American feel. “Just You,” an acoustic love ballad, and “Summer Blues,” a dreamy jazz, conclude the set.
If you love great harmonica playing that’s not limited to Sonny Boy/Little Walter/Big Walter stylings, you’ll totally enjoy Destination For Dreamers, which is available through Amazon or iTunes. Miller is definitely someone to keep an eye on.