CULTURE- BUZZ BOX Live or not? Thompson/D'earth aim for lively

John D'earth and Dawn Thompson adore the Thursday night scene at Miller's as much as anyone else in town, and not just because they get paid at the end of it. "Our band right now is the best it's ever been," says D'earth.

Their newest release, When The Serpent Flies, is the third in a series of albums that celebrate the Miller's experience. Since it's already in stores, their show at Fridays After Five May 26 is as close to a "CD release party" as you're gonna get.

They were turning heads on a recent trip to California. "People were coming up to ask us and saying, 'What is this?!'" recalls D'earth. He does his best to answer: "Our band is very influenced by Miles, as kind of an homage to his rock days."

"And to Coltrane, too, because we really like going nutty and free," adds Thompson, "and because John likes to have as many horns on the bandstand as possible."

But that's not the aesthetic they were going for this time around. "Although it's not a live record, the idea was to get a record that was what the band sounds like live," says D'earth. "We wanted to avoid producing it beyond what the band could do live. There are only two horns at any given time, and Dawn didn't do background harmonies."

The sound they're all so excited about also includes Pete Spaar on bass, Daniel Clarke on piano, Jamal Millner on guitar, and Brian Caputo on drums. In between solos, sax player J.C. Kuhl staples himself to D'earth for confidently intertwined melodic themes.

"I really like being a trumpet and tenor band," says D'earth. "J.C. and I are both steeped in that tradition, so when we play together, we speak as one." Elsewhere, they let Thompson do the talking– but they don't shut up entirely. "Dawn, as a songwriter, looks for people who play hard on her tunes, not just accompany her," says D'earth. "This band is about trying to bridge the worlds of straight-ahead jazz and songwriting, trying to get the right balance of ensemble writing and improvisation."

As the band swings between the two extremes, it almost seems as though the album is breathing. From vocal to instrumental and from scripted to seat-of-the-pants, When The Serpent Flies waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, teeters and totters over nine tracks, some of which are ascribed to specific composers while others are credited as "free improvisation/full band."

So, "live?" Obviously not, you ninny. Haven't you been paying attention?

But "alive?" No question.

If you want the former, be sure to catch Thompson/D'earth Friday, May 26, at the Pavilion at the east end of the Downtown Mall