This album, Jazz Words (his seventh), is a brilliant display of Million’s composing and lyrics. Each of the songs on Jazz Words are originals. To help him in the delivery of own poetic sensibilities is vocalist Sarah Marie Young and she is marvelous. Along with Million on piano and Young on vocals are Jim Gailloreto on sax and flutes, John Sims on bass, and Juan Pastor on drums.
With all the beautiful lyrics and gorgeous vocals, the musical compositions are fabulous. You wind up listening to the vocals and then repeated listening for the music itself.
The album opens with Heaven to Monkitroid. The Thelonious Monk influence is clear and delightful but you also see Million influenced by the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss. The piano is unmistakably a nod and a wink to Monk and the lyrics are deserving of close attention. Young’s bluesy-bop delivery is infectious. Pastor also gives some cool drum passages.
Mis’ry Waltz is actually from an earlier album but Million wrote lyrics for this version of the song and Young works it well. The tune has a distinctively Gospel feel to it and it is gorgeous. Missing Page was written for his daughter, Page, who had moved away. It is not the melancholy of the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home but is a warm farewell as a daughter takes on life.
The sorrow comes with Hymnal, written after September 11, 2001.
Time will come and go away
Another welcome overstayed
So we will sing a hymn and pray
Will this help us find our way?
Life moves on. We plant our seed
Growing toward the life they lead
No matter how hard we plead
They will steal away our greed
These are not to be sorrowful seeds we sow
For there’s joy in discovering that we always know
These will not be sorrowful seeds we sow
There’s so much more to know
Before We Go
Melancholy but not maudlin, the song is full of hope and is beautifully done by Million’s piano and Young’s intonations
Nika’s Changes is written for his other daughter and his hopes for her. It is a cool, cool 5/4 and bops along beautifully. The piano and sax are remarkable in their partnership and Gailloreto gives us an exquisite sax solo. Cold Wind gives a warm bass introduction from the bass of Sims. The cold piano is in contrast and reveals the struggle of Million’s discovery of having cancer at the same time that his wife discovered she was pregnant. An altogether impressive piece with wonderful piano and fine bass. Wait for the Gailloreto flute solo.
Loss follows from the point of view of his divorce from his first wife. It starts with a layered approach and moves to a straightforward sad reminiscence.
Was this love ever real
Even at the start?
It is not only about loss but about personal rediscovery. Anyone who has been through it, knows exactly what Million is talking about. Great sax solo along with Young’s agonized vocals.
The album closes with The Way Home. Listen carefully to the lyrics and understand the quest for St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. It is about finding truth within. Ever-present, ever-waiting.
Jazz Words is more than the words—which are remarkable—but also it is the music—which is inspired and inspiring. Steve Million makes it all work, from lyrics to composition to performance. His artistry is beyond dispute.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl