Sammy Miller and the Congregation Shine at UCSB
By Rebecca Horrigan
Brightening the rows of UCSB’s Campbell Hall with their uplifting mix of joyful jazz, Sammy Miller + the Congregation managed to transform a huge lecture auditorium into an intimate club with their personable, engaging, and interactive show.
Playing many tunes from their recently-released album, Leaving Egypt, the performance felt fresh and provided each member of the band with their time in the limelight. Trumpet player Alphonso Horne demonstrated his incredible vocal range during their hilarious Jazz and Western number, the “Jestern.” Ben Flocks on tenor sax, Sam Crittendon on trombone, Corbin Jones on bass and tuba, and David Linard on piano, shined in their own ways as well throughout the evening. Miller’s sister, Molly, who has toured with Jason Mraz, is a force on the electric guitar. It’s as if the instrument is a part of her; their connectedness evident in every little dance, solo, and riff.
The well-timed pre-Valentine’s day break-up jam “I Know Just How it Goes” started the show with the just the right mix of vulnerability and musical catharsis/comedy. “Bluebird,” a new track captivated me with its sweet breezy Paul Simon quality, and uplifting lyrics like, “With an open heart you’ll sing your song” and “Dreaming never hurt no bluebird, dreaming never hurt noone.” The heartfelt vibes shifted seamlessly into another new track, “It Gets Better.” Anchored by Miller’s melodic and earnest vocals and buoyed with triumphant horns, the propulsive song captures their undeniable optimism.
Charismatic frontman/drummer Sammy Miller met his talented bandmates at New York’s Juilliard School, and this group of dynamos have played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Beyonce. Their combination of strong musical chops and vibrant personalities plays together perfectly in this collective. With every little knowing side glance, yip of support during a solo, or all-in-good-fun jab poked at the other, it’s clear this is a group of real friends. With encouragement to sing along, answer questions, and clap in their seats, for the evening, the audience was adopted into this familial ratpack.
At the show’s end, walking out of the theater, my friend exclaimed, “That was just what I needed.” Buoyed by the band’s tonic of laughs, hope, and rollicking jazz, it appeared that the whole crowd dispersed to their cars feeling a little lighter.
The event was hosted by UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures. Click here to view their full schedule.