Classic literature finds its way into modern music. That’s part of the
idea behind John Mills’ Invisible Designs (Fable Records,
The players are Carmen Bradford, vocals; Mills, soprano, alto, tenor and
baritone saxophones, flute and bass clarinet; Jeff Hellmer, keys on all
but three songs; Jim Beard, keys on “Invisible Designs,” “My
Disagreeable Attitude” and “Darwin”; Eric Johnson, guitar on “Invisible
Designs”; Mitch Watkins, guitar on “Banana King,” “Tidewater” and
“Everything I Learned”; Jake Langley, guitar on “Lady Vain,” “My
Disagreeable Attitude,” “Four Directions” and “Strictly Business”;
Carter Arrington, guitar on “Napoleon” and “Let Your Brother Go”;
Spencer Starnes, acoustic bass; and David Sierra, drums.
This is that rare commentary about a jazz recording that says little
about the music and a lot about the words. Mills changed his approach to
the project. Instead of composing music and creating lyrics to match, he
wrote the words first. More than that, the songs originated with phrases
borrowed from classic, public-domain novels. The lines evolve into ideas
that may or may not have any connection to the stories from which they
Authors represented are H.G. Wells, Henry James, E.E. Cummings, Charles
Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, J.W. Barrie, O. Henry, Robert Louis Stevenson,
O. Henry, Lewis Carol, Jack London and Mark Twain.
With Bradford acting as narrator, lending her earthy alto voice to these
stories, Mills and the band provide accompaniment that varies from sassy
and swinging to mellow, from easygoing to melodramatic. No individual
performances stand out, as it’s more about the bridging of the novels
with original music. The overall orchestration carries more weight than
“Lady Vain” is culled from Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Bradley narrates from the perspective of a stowaway aboard a ship, who
witnesses a drunken starlet plunge to a watery death. “Darwin,” borrowed
from Origin of the Species, is about mutant life forms.
Mills and Bradford worked together a lot during their early careers.
Bradford spent many years with the Count Basie Orchestra, and Mills
became a prolific studio player in Austin, Texas.
Mills composed all 13 tracks.