Though I have been a fan of his for years, I have only seen Roger Miller recently as one half of Binary System, with Larry Dersch on drums. My first time was sitting in a pile of clothes at the show at the Garment District, a truly interesting experience. I've always thought that Roger Miller's piano-oriented music was among his best work-"Win Instantly" is still my desert island disc! This particular night, he and Larry are truly in sync. It's as if they are midi-linked. I've seen Larry play in many bands, but he is at his best in Binary System. Highly creative classical tribal jazzy experimental intense ambient punk garage jam would sum it up quite nicely, for those who prefer the catagorical approach.
The Binary System live at the Idea Room (SST Records)
This is local rock innovator Roger Miller's first live album since Mission of Burma's 1983 swan song - and oddly shares that band's organic power, despite his use of grand piano instead of electric guitar. His duo arrangements with drummer Larry Dersch mine the structure of classical music as well as rock, with the freeness of jazz if not the freedom. The busy transitions in Sun Ra's "Moon Dance" evoke the jousting of Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer more than avant-jazz. But the empathy between Miller and Dersch is striking, from their nip-and-tuck accents in "The Fish, He Laughs At His Own Commands" to the warped tango slant of "Machete Hackers Boogie-Woogie".
The Binary System, Miller's new duo project, has a record out now on SST, "Live at the Idea Room." Get this record. Live, Miller's piano playing is rollicking and out of control. He opened with several pieces for which the piano -- a baby grand -- was outfitted with various clamps, rattles and other effects. It sounded, by turns, like a music box, a player piano, a string bass and your everyday piano. He and Dersch, formerly of the Concussion Ensemble, are brilliant together, playing stopgap breaks with precision and bouncing off each other's developments with inventiveness. They were amazing, the neatest thing I've heard in awhile.
Roger Miller and Larry Dersch (SST)
by Ric Dube
The Idea Room is the small club in Hermosa Beach, California where Roger Miller recorded this album of piano/drum duets with Larry Dersch. The pair played the club over three nights in October of last year, performing two sets each night. During the first set, the team wowed audiences with a set of rehearsed originals that melded Miller's highly unique genre-free melodies with Dersch's rock beats and systematic randomness. Come intermission, Miller prepared the strings of his piano with a deliberate array of nuts and bolts, alligator clips, and an actual hair comb. A set of improvisation followed, if not always wild in ferocity, then certainly in the enthusiasm of the players.
Roger Miller doesn't miss much in the way of irony. Without question, Live at the Idea Room is deliberately titled, and open to as much interpretation as anyone cares to apply. The album's liner notes suggest that the Idea Room is as much a name for Miller's creative mind. The communication space between Miller and Dersch as they create magnificent (and digestively brief!) improvisations like "Turbo Wheel" and "Binary Mechanics" invites the title as well.
Miller, an excellent guitar player (and singer/ songwriter with Boston's legendary Mission Of Burma), is most at home on the piano. The instrument is perfect for his style, which emphasizes a superior sensitivity to the inherent rhythm of a good melody. The piano is a string instrument, but is also a percussion instrument -- after all, you have to hit it for it to make a sound. While the idea of piano/drum duets may seem odd to some, it is only because nobody has done it yet. It's time has come. Recommended.
For more on Roger Miller, read the Webnoize Interview where he talks about Live at the Idea Room as well as his early days with Mission of Burma: From Burma to Binary, Roger Miller Is Hardly a Man Without a Mission. Also check out the Webnoize Deadair piece: Groundbreaking Mission of Burma Rocked Until Their Ears Bled.