Over the course of 2019, Paste has reviewed about 300 albums. Yet, hundreds—if not thousands—of albums have slipped through the cracks. This December, we’re delighted to launch a new series called No Album Left Behind, in which our core team of critics reviews some of their favorite records we may have missed the first time around, looking back at some of the best overlooked releases of 2019.
Having worked with Whitney, Chance the Rapper and any number of Chicago’s major musical exports, you’ve likely heard Will Miller’s music before. The trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist has been an unlikely architect for the city’s genre-agnostic music scene, often blending his jazz credentials with hip-hop, country and soul. But the Oberlin-trained musician’s first love was always jazz, and his latest project, the playfully misspelled Resavoir, is an ode to both his musical and geographic hometown.
Though he acts as bandleader, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Miller is far from the only creative voice behind Resavoir’s self-titled debut record. The 18 collaborators that play on this release are a veritable who’s who of Chicago’s music scene: There are appearances from Knox Fortune, OHMME’s Macie Stewart, Noname collaborator Akenya Seymour, Kids These Days’ Lane Beckstrom, rapper Sen Morimoto and tons more. (Some of these artists also appear on two other great Chicago-centric albums Paste highlighted in our No Albums Left Behind series: Kaina’s Next to the Sun and Jamila Woods’ Legacy! Legacy!). Despite the overwhelming number of players listed in the liner notes, Resavoir still feels remarkably self-contained, never overly-sprawling with its musical ideas so much as its compacting them, layering it all with a sublime technical precision.
Each of Resavoir’s nine tracks exists somewhere between spontaneous improvisation and bedroom-pop sampling, giving the album a surreal feeling resembling a lucid dream. The individual pieces that make up every song—saxophones, wurlitzers, violins, drums, to name just a few—often bleed into one another, expertly mixed to drift in and out of a synthesized ether at the drop of a hat. The same could be said about the types of jazz the album tackles; cool lounge aesthetics morph into sushi restaurant smooth jazz into big band swing and back again, sometimes all on the same song. That’s the case with “Taking Flight,” a track bookended by a lovely harp intro from Brandee Younger and pillowy vocal harmonies to boot.
Elsewhere, Miller’s hip-hop credentials come out to play: While they’re most evident on the Sen Morimoto-assisted “Escalator,” they’re also quietly there on the dexterous polyrhythms of “Clouds” and the flittering electronica of its partner, “Woah,” both of which sound ready to be chopped and screwed into the type of uptempo jazzy hip-hop Chicago artists so often excel in producing. Resavoir’s title track, meanwhile, is a simmering groove, placing quietly droning synthesizers underneath rhythmic horns and the natural sounds you might hear somewhere near Chicago’s Navy Pier. (It should come as no surprise, then, that Resavoir was released on International Anthem Recording Co., home to the equally thrilling Makaya McCraven, Irreversible Entanglements and clear influence Jeff Parker).
Not every track is quite so upbeat. The album closes with “LML,” a song written in response to the Parkland shooting in Florida. Standing for “Love My Life,” the record ends with a call to arms to cherish those around you that matter the most.
But it’s album highlight “Plantasy” that really showcases what makes Resavoir so special; sounding like a summer’s sunset just out of reach, the track lets melancholic keys, swelling strings and a virtuoso saxophone line guide listeners through its emotional ambiguity. “Plantasy,” like the rest of Resavoir, is hazy, warm and over all too soon. It’s sure to linger in the memory like the pinks and blues that meet in the clouds above a city skyline.