Walking into SOhO Friday night for the Sammy Miller and the Congregation concert felt like stumbling into a New Orleans jazz hall. The seven-piece band was decked out in white and began the show with the spirited “Carolina Shout.” The musicians quickly set to work breaking down the “fourth wall” and walked out into the audience exuding hospitality while shaking hands, greeting fans, and setting the stage for an intimate evening of collective effervescence.
While bandleader and drummer Miller is originally from L.A., his brand of “joyful jazz” —made complete with the talented bandmates he met while at New York’s Juilliard School —sings of the Big Easy. There’s an effortlessness to the synergy of the band and a contagious delight that carries through each tune. While Miller took the lead telling stories, cracking jokes, and launching into each song with an eager tapping of the drums or an excited “yip,” of revelry, each member of the band got their turn to shine as well. Alphonso Horne on trumpet, Ben Flocks on tenor sax, and Sam Crittendon on trombone delivered mind-blowing solos and riffed off of one another with the intimacy of siblings.
The band’s jovial connectedness, not only with each other but with the crowd, gave the venue a distinctly familial vibe. This bond was only strengthened with the addition of Molly Miller, Sammy’s sister, who danced, wailed, and shredded on the guitar, demonstrating such oneness with her instrument it seemed to be a part of her body.
Highlights from the show included the sprawling and punchy “Reasons I Just Don’t Know Yet” as well as a taste of their first ever “Jopera” (jazz opera). This comedic, expansive, and entertaining spectacle was colored with costumes, audience participation, and all-around hilarity, anchored by these truly talented musicians.
The band closed out the set with the rousing “Lil’ Liza Jane” and an extended drum solo in which Miller climbed out from behind his set, sticks in hand, and produced hypnotizing beats on everything from the floor to mic stands. Before the final bows, Miller checked in with the crowd, asking “Did you have a good time?” The piercing applause, venue-wide grins, demands for more, and bursting conviviality made the answer to that question crystal clear.