KASE and Tiffany Miller’s new album is a masterclass in collaboration

“Live At The Jazz Estate” unites a collection of Madison and Milwaukee area artists.
The album art for "Live At The Jazz Estate" is layered in a 4 by 3 grid. The art is a modern impressionist in nature, dominated by blues and sunburst orange-yellow swirls, with a section in the middle that evokes the fretboard of a guitar.

Photo: The album art for “Live At The Jazz Estate” is layered in a 4×3 grid.

“Live At The Jazz Estate” unites a collection of Madison and Milwaukee area artists.

On March 16, the single “Love (The Muse)” was released from KASE and Tiffany Miller’s new collaborative effort, Live At The Jazz Estate. By the closing notes of that introductory look at the album, its potency is abundantly clear. Recorded at The Jazz Estate just months before it closed (before subsequently reopening as a cocktail bar), Live At The Jazz Estate also plays as a love letter to a historic venue. KASE and Tiffany Miller’s album was the last live full-length to be recorded at The Jazz Estate, sending the venue’s recorded history off on a searingly memorable note.

And what a lineup of musicians to send The Jazz Estate off. KASE—an exploratory jazz trio whose members are split between Racine, Milwaukee, and Madison—and the tirelessly creative Tiffany Miller (who is also Milwaukee-based) have both built strong reputations within Wisconsin thanks to the variety and high quality of their work. In the case of KASE, the trio has swung through many facets of jazz and hip-hop, moving the music forward rather than staying overly faithful to traditionalism. With Miller, there’s always a bounty of artistry on offer, channeled in  her work as a poet, author, multidisciplinary artist, boutique artisan, or even as a teacher. On Live At The Jazz Estate, the four of them combine to put their all into an intoxicating effort that underscores the potency of collaboration. 

Every member of KASE delivers a superlative performance across the eight tracks that make up the album. Madisonian John Christensen‘s bass playing is incredibly fluid, allowing each track to luxuriate in an expansive, quasi-melancholic atmosphere. DJ/Producer Jordan Lee’s beats, sounds, and samples pay tribute to jazz, hip-hop, and ambient, providing Live At The Jazz Estate a set of teeth that grow increasingly sharp over the album’s 48-plus minute runtime. Trumpeter Jamie Breiwick (who also contributes to the electronic beatmaking) punctuates things with well-placed bursts of virtuosic riffing, his figures often restrained but always exacting in nature. Miller’s prose is delivered with an inviting looseness, but is laser-focused and highly impactful when scrutinized.

All of this mastery is evidenced on the album’s opening track, “Promises,” in which the collective of artists explains that “the vibe here is completely improvised,” with Miller proclaiming, “They dope. I’m dope. We gonna do dope shit together” soon after. She’s not wrong. At face value, the opening few minutes of Live At The Jazz Estate are a thesis, but they also manage to clearly establish the project’s mesmeric tonality. KASE provides a perfect springboard for Miller’s poetry, freestyling, and vocal runs, which add an additional layer of vibrancy. “Love (The Muse)” is emblematic of Live At The Jazz Estate‘s strongest traits, making the decision to have it be the record’s preview single a natural one. “Surrendering and embracing. The usherance of joy. Seeing. Healing. Joy. And holding in a safe, unapologetic space. No utterance of apologies for being the authentic self. Seeing, in every bit of one word, high. Hi! Hi.” That tantalizing passage is one of many from Miller on “Love (The Muse).” A spiritual, unspoken connection between two entities anchors the track’s narrative, which may or may not be a subtle reference to the musical collaboration at hand.

Miller’s vocal delivery is that of a firebrand: clear-eyed, deeply felt, and full of conviction. KASE’s winsome blend of jazz, trip-hop, and ambient locks into Miller’s performances with a sense of euphoric momentum; everything is in its right place and the adventure ahead is a welcoming one. “Wondering About Y’all (Angeling)”, is one of several tracks on Live At The Jazz Estate that pays tribute to the passage of time, from youth to the afterlife: “One more smile. I be wonderin’ about y’all. I’ll be wonderin’ about y’all. Like, where do y’all be flyin’ to and who y’all flirtin’ with? Marvin? Sidney? Michael? Prince?” At this point, someone else on stage answers: “Yeah.” Miller continues: “How y’all be angelin’? Like, is angelin’ a word up there? I wonder. I wonder.” No matter where Miller heads on the album, there’s always a profound respect given to the comfort of company.

On penultimate track “Q & A,” KASE produce the album’s most jittery musical backdrop, and Miller takes her time to jump into the fray. After measuring out a two-minute build-up, Miller goes straight to questioning God: “What do it all mean, God? I’m not angry, and this might be considered mean, God. Help me understand, God. Is this a lesson in purity, God? Finding joy in spirit qualities versus orgasms, God? I just wonder.” Invoking the world’s harshness, Miller and KASE play off each other’s willingness to indulge in abrasion. There’s a push-and-pull at the heart of “Q & A” that thrives on creating and managing tension, with Miller and KASE masterfully navigating the album’s spikiest vibe.

Music journalist Josh Terry recently wrote a piece expounding on a semi-viral tweet he’d fired off that created a distinction between “vibes” artists and “songs” artists, positioning the the former as forgettable and the latter as worthwhile. What Live At The Jazz Estate posits is that you can, successfully, cover both ends of that spectrum without detriment. To borrow the title of a previous KASE track, what’s achieved on this album is music in a pure form. There is, unmistakably, an emphasis on vibe, but by the end of each track, there is a definitive sense of structure and greater meaning. These are songs. (To Terry’s credit, he does end his piece admitting to the knottiness of the songs/vibes spectrum when discussing jazz and ambient, and Live At The Jazz Estate qualifies as both.) 

Live At The Jazz Estate is many things at once. A swan song for a historic venue. A time capsule for this specific era of Wisconsin jazz. A genuinely great live album featuring four artists elevating each other to new peaks. As listeners, we’re lucky it was recorded (and recorded extremely well, with Lee engineering and Shane Olivo mixing). Whether or not you were there, Live At The Jazz Estate is a testament to KASE, Tiffany Miller, the value and nature of collaboration, The Jazz Estate, the capabilities of Wisconsin artists, the power of live music, and to jazz itself. 

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