Band: John Milham Album Release Party
Date: Friday, Feb. 2, 8 p.m.
Venue: Cedar Street Social Club, 4 N. Cedar St., www.cedarstreetsocialclub.com
Tickets: $30, available through Brown Paper Tickets and www.johnmilham.com
John Milham is not an unfamiliar name on the Mobile Bay area music scene — in fact, he is one of its most sought-after drummers for a variety of musical projects. Over the years, this percussionist has provided the heartbeat of bands such as Haere Marue, Kung-Fu Mama, Vibration Configuration and Grayson Capps & the Lost Cause Minstrels. He’s also worked with a long list of artists ranging from Johnny Sansone to Papa Mali, and is one of the founders of Mobile’s annual “Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas.”
From rock to funk, Milham’s versatility as a drummer keeps him busy, but for the past nine months he’s filled his free time working on a very personal project. Under the guidance of co-producer Rick Hirsch and co-producer/engineer Keylan Laxton, Milham has been laying down tracks for his debut album, “Arden’s Garden,” being released on Skate Mountain Records.
The Feb. 2 release party will feature a legendary collaboration between Milham and a number of guests from the album. With volley after volley of infectious jazz tracks, “Arden’s Garden” should be considered a welcome addition to the local music scene.
With the exception of its title track, “Arden’s Garden” is ruled by instrumental works. However, this doesn’t stop this jazz masterpiece from successfully taking the listener through a variety of emotions that begin with the jazzy grooves of “Step On It!” before dropping into the exotic vertigo of “J.B.’s Ride.”
The album’s title track is a suave transition into a mellow jam with the silken vocals of Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band) floating across each measure. The shifting personality of “Brightness Suite” makes this composition one of the album’s most prolific tracks. This expansive vibe continues with the revolutionary New Age jazz of “Ana’s Daydream,” featuring Milham’s daughter.
With its Big Easy aural gait, “Donkey Strut” lives up to its name before dropping into the lazy piano caress of “Kingston.” “Arden’s Garden” ends with a bouncing trip down “Zimple Street,” shining with the vocals of Leon Brown Sr.
Even though the recording process began last year, Milham says the music found on this album has been drifting in his head for almost a decade. Nine years ago, he bought a voice recorder and took the first step in the creation of “Arden’s Garden.” Up to that point, ideas for songs had been creeping into his mind, only to be soon forgotten. But with the voice recorder, Milham began capturing the music that was spontaneously flowing into his brain.
“Over the past nine years, I ended up with a hundred-plus ideas,” Milham explained. “Some were drumbeats, some were melodies and some were just chords. Three years ago, I started making the intention at every New Year, and I would say, ‘This year, I’m going to record a record.’ Then, the year would go by without a record. So, finally, I realized that years were going to continue to fly by until I start putting things in motion.”
Milham found the motivation to create this album at the 2016 installment of the “Charlie Brown Jazz Christmas” concert. This show combined Milham with Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown (trumpet), Clarence Johnson (saxophone), Chris Severin (bass) and Chris Spies (keyboard). This musical combo left quite an impression on Milham.
“I was like, ‘Man! These are the guys! This is the band,’” Milham said. “A lot of my songs have horns, and I had these horn players. We jelled well together. I decided to set a date and deadline and go for it, and I did a crowdfunding campaign.”
Once he entered Dauphin Street Sound, Milham found himself bringing more guest artists into the world of “Arden’s Garden.” Locals such as Molly Thomas, Rick Hirsch, Ryan Balthrop, Corky Hughes, Christopher Spies and Symone French donated time and talent. Jennifer Hartswick provided her trumpet and vocals, as did vocalist/trombonist Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band). Bassist Kevin Scott and keyboardist Matt Slocum took time from the Jimmy Herring Band to lay down tracks, and guitarist Dave Yoke (Susan Tedeschi Band, Dr. John) donated his skills.
When the album’s production began, Milham says, his song ideas began following musical tangents through what he describes as “an incredible process.” Many tracks already had a working arrangement. “Brightness” began on a basement piano at Milham’s brother’s house. The second movement of this track took form in the studio when Milham led the band to “groove” with a dissonant G chord over the song’s C Sharp key. Milham said this led Matt Slocum to freewheel across his keyboard. Slocum was responsible, Milham says, for the third movement of “Brightness,” adding that Slocum wrote this part at Milham’s house in 2015.
“We added trumpet on it, and Keylan did an incredible job getting the sound with the instruments. We only did two takes of that song. That was just one of those moments in the studio that turned into magic.”
Milham says “Step on It!” was a song that came to life in the studio. This composition started as just chords and a beat he recorded at home. Once he presented the recording in the studio, Milham says Chris Spies came up with the intro. Spies and Slocum added a melody. Afterward, Kevin Scott brainstormed a bridge for the song. Ultimately, Milham sees this song as one co-written by the four musicians.
“It was quite the adventure just seeing these songs come to life,” Milham says. “A lot of the reason that I held back for so long was because I had an idea that these songs weren’t good enough. So, I put them out there. I went into the studio with kind of an idea of the songs, but a lot of it was abstract and a question of hearing playbacks with these players.”
Milham says the crowd at the release party can expect “almost everybody” who appeared on the album, including Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, Matt Slocum, Rick Hirsch, Kevin Scott, Molly Thomas, Leon Brown, Clarence Johnson and “many more.” Milham has also invited singer-songwriter Nick Branch to open the show with a celebration of the release of his album, “Nickel After Midnight,” which features players from “Arden’s Garden.”
Milham hopes to tour in support of this album during the spring and early summer. Afterward, he plans to start working on the next album, for which he already has five songs recorded.
(Photo by Chad Edwards/MCE Photography) Drummer extraordinaire John Milham invited a roster of guest artists to accompany him on “Arden’s Garden.” They’ll perform at an album release party at the Cedar Street Social Club Feb. 2.