Originally published at rec.music.bluenote
Those who have been keeping score will know that part one was Keith Jarrett – whose influence on both subsequent shows (Renee Rosnes and Mulgrew Miller) was sometimes subtle, sometimes more overt. More later – read on.
Remember all those nice things I said about the Baird Center in South Orange? Well, take about half of them back. This time the piano had *noticeable* problems – an annoying metallic plink on an A-flat that could have been easily fixed by a technician, had one been hired. Also, the piano tried biting Mulgrew during one of the tunes. “Sabotage” was how he termed it. The lack of a good sound man also hampered the beginning of the second set. You’d think with one microphone on the piano and one microphone for announcements, it wouldn’t be too difficult to set and forget. I think they could have done the whole gig with NO microphones – this is a small room (about 100 people). Lastly, while the Rosnes show had intermission music by Jackie McLean, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the like, this time we were “treated” to some “contemporary pop dance music” played at excessive volumes. Who thinks up this stuff??? OK, OK – on to the show:
“Just in Time” was more or less a warm up piece. He tried out some long (LONG) lines and by the time the second tune “Monk’s Dream” came around, Miller was comfortable – playing with the melody, keeping a happy balance between the sparse Monk approach and the expansive Herbie Hancock-sort of thing.
The beautiful ballad “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” was a tribute to the wonderfully mild weather we’ve been having here. This moved into a lightly swinging feel for the solo and he used the tune’s melody as a reference point during the whole proceeding. “How Insensitive” by Jobim was followed by “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Dancing on the Ceiling” – Mulgrew had just started a great stride chorus on this when the fallboard attacked. To his credit, he was able to push it back without missing a beat. He added a cadenza to this one which was clear proof of his astonishing technique. Actually, during the whole show he was tossing off runs and arpeggios that would have made Oscar Peterson proud.
He began “Woody’n You” with a sort of abstract introduction and in addition to the now commonplace half-step substitution on the bridge, also added a few more harmonic twists to this tune. The first set ended with “What a Difference a Day Made” which was fairly rollicking at times.
Second half – “You and the Night and the Music” has been a feature for Mulgrew at least back to his days with Art Blakey in the mid 1980s, and this was a nice version, with lots of energy. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” is challenging enough, but Miller took it even further out, sideslipping the chords and melody. He also played some of this in 3/4 making for a pleasant change.
His original “Farewell to Dogma” was a fairly radical change from the tried and true harmonies of the rest of the show, using a modal approach. Maybe I was in the minority this night, but I don’t need to hear 100% standards on a solo, duo, or trio gig. I’ve long admired Miller’s tunes (his “Second Thoughts” should be in everyone’s book) and was glad to hear this one. This (as well as a version of “What a Difference”) is originally from his “From Day To Day” album on Landmark – might be reissued on 32Jazz, I don’t know.
I’ve been listening to Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits album most every day for the past couple of weeks, trying to get into the amazing melodies, harmonies and arrangements of Burt Bacharach, so it was a special treat to hear “Alfie” next. What a tune. Instrumentally it doesn’t have quite the impact that the vocal gives it – those major ninth intervals are easy to play, but really are effective when sung well. But this was still beautiful.
Then the Jarrett influence became apparent. I know that Mulgrew is a HUGE Keith Jarrett fan (he really is huge – and those HANDS! – I remember meeting him for the first time and being awed by their size.) – even to the point of cancelling one of his own gigs to go see Keith play at Carnegie Hall a few years back. A fairly straight ahead rendition of “All Blues” moved into the realm of KJ as the vamp at the end just grew and grew. Then came a performance of “Old Folks,” which was slightly more traditional than the rendition Jarrett played back in November (or on several ECM recordings). This closed with an amusing reference to “Angel Eyes”. Finally, just as Jarrett had done, Mulgrew wrapped up the second set with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – nothing could top the way Jarrett made the tune appear out of a three note vamp, but Miller’s tried-and-true version was perfectly acceptable.
One thing I noticed during the show is that a touch of gray is appearing at Mulgrew’s temples. Can it really be that this fresh young pianist is aging? I guess so. It’s been 20 years since he first came on the scene (with the Duke Ellington Orchestra), and during that time he’s worked with Betty Carter, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Tony Williams – now all players on that larger bandstand. Mulgrew Miller is a living link to those past greats. And he’s not so bad himself.