February 14th , 2023……. NEW YORK Jazz pianist Ben Miller was born in the Philippines, raised in Peru and upstate New York, and educated in Montreal and New York City. After the pandemic, he moved to Rochester, NY. It’s no wonder he sees the release of his debut trio album, Feathers of Ma’at, as a chance to pause and take stock.
“I’ve been moving from place to place, playing and writing jazz for half my life now,” he said. “I thought this was the right time to step back and see how far I’ve come.” The result, on Truth Revolution Records, is evidence of a rich musical and spiritual journey.
The nine tunes, all originals, feature Miller on piano and Fender Rhodes, Taru Alexander on drums, and Joseph Lepore on bass. Alexander is a fixture on the Brooklyn and New York City jazz scenes who has played on more than 100 albums, including his own critically acclaimed 2022 release Echoes of the Masters (Sunnyside).
Miller met Alexander at the Friday night jazz jams at the Williamsburg Music Center in Brooklyn. Alexander recommended him for a place on the WMC house band and later invited him to join his own quartet.
“I could hear something special the first time I played with him,” Alexander said. “As I’ve gotten to know Ben better, I’ve been more and more impressed with his composition. I told him it was time for the world to get to know him.”
Alexander encouraged Miller to record an album and brought Lepore on board for the sessions. Lepore was raised in Italy and has been based in New York City since the late 1990s. He has performed, toured, and recorded with many of the top jazz musicians in the world.
“It was an honor to play with Taru and Joseph, and to hear them interpret my work,” Miller said. “They’re such amazing players, and they’re a lot of fun.”
Miller, who has a master’s degree in jazz piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, is not just a student of bebop, post-bop, and other jazz styles, but also of ancient mysticism. The compositions on Feathers of Ma’at explore both musical and metaphysical themes.
“Jazz can sometimes seem like a music of the moment, with its constant experimentation and split-second decision-making,” Miller said. “But there’s also a deep order to it, and connections with universal forces. I find creative, spiritual, and emotional sustenance in that interplay, and I hope it shines through in this album.”
The title refers to Ma’at (pronounced ma-AHT), the eagle-winged Egyptian goddess who represents truth, order, balance, and justice. Several song titles relate to mythological figures, mathematical concepts, or the ancient arts of alchemy, spiritual anatomy, or numerology. For instance, the song “Internal Eyes” is a play on the word “internalize,” and also a reference to the pineal and pituitary glands, which are considered by mystics to be the organs of intuition and higher vision.
Miller incorporates some of these ideas into the compositions themselves. He builds the blues tune Ennead, named for a group of nine Egyptian deities, on two triads of the hexatonic scale, “a nod to the ancient mathematical concept of ‘three to the power of two,’” which equals nine. The meter for the tune “Lubicz Cube” is seven, which corresponds to the number of primary chakras, or spiritual energy centers, in the human body. Another piece, “Rise Tide Rise,” is an instrumental version of a piece with lyrics in which Miller meditates on his struggle with bipolar disorder.
Regardless of the deeper meanings, Miller said he values beauty and clarity over everything else in his music. The songs are not meant to be riddles or statements. “The bottom line is that I hope people love the tunes,” he said.
The first eight tracks on Feathers of Ma’at were recorded by Tom Tedesco at Tedesco Studios in Paramus, NJ, and mixed and mastered by Logan McKinney at Small Cove Productions in Rochester, NY. Miller recorded the final track, “Unjaded Hero,” at Manhattan School of Music and engineered it at his own Third Motion Studios in Rochester.