Album review

Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller – ‘In Harmony’ (rec. 2006 / 2007)

Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller – In Harmony

(Resonance Records HCD-2060. Review by Leonard Weinreich)

Mainly dependent on inspired improvisation, jazz music is ephemeral stuff. Unrecorded performances evaporate into the ether never to be retrieved. Hence the obligation to fall on our knees at regular intervals and devote thanks to the deities of recorded sound.

This album is a prime example. A respectful memorial to two individual voices who departed the bandstand too early. Roy Hargrove was an incandescent but brief trumpet meteor who died aged 49 in 2018. Mulgrew Miller was a gifted pianist who died aged 57 in 2013. Fortunately, we can hear them in glorious duet, thanks to farsighted producers (Zev Feldman, Larry Clothier and George Klabin) who recorded them live in full bloom performing in a couple of different locations for two appreciative audiences.

In his abbreviated career, Hargrove experimented with a number of emerging styles but, from the evidence provided here, his heart lay deep in the lyrical bedrock forever associated with the super-fluent but short-lived Clifford Brown, killed in a car accident aged 25. As if to underscore his respect, he honours his debt to the inventive trumpeter by playing Benny Golson’s elegiac lament I Remember Clifford. Hitting every note with precision (except when smears and slurs are required), Hargrove displays polished technique continuously popping with fresh ideas. His style is crisp, agile and passionate. His attack (listen to Monk’s Dream) is nothing short of fiery.

As Miller’s performance on Jobim’s Tristeza testifies, he’d fully assimilated the keyboard legacies of Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, expressing them with the elegance of a Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan. Listen how he mints new variations on Dizzy Gillespie’s tender Con Alma.

The repertoire here is drawn from jazz classics: Dizzy Gillespie’s Ow! and previously mentioned Con Alma; Blue Mitchell’s (another trumpet player who died early) Latinate Fungii Mama and two compositions by Thelonious Monk: the already noted Monk’s Dream and Ruby My Dear, both approached in full Monkian mode. Other selections are perennial jazz standards: Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love; Gordon and Warren’s This Is Always,delivered on flugelhorn with sumptuously sustained tones free of vibrato; Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation; Evans and Livingstone’s Never Let Me Go and Just In Time by Betty Comden, Adolf Green and Julie Styne. There’s also a deeply funky Blues For Mr Hill, credited to Hargrove but, as all of us know, its origins belong in 12-bar jazz history.

The album title, In Harmony is accurate, an exercise in instant rapport. It’s a conversation between two equals who, without bass and drums, swing with immaculate rhythmic control, ears wide open to each other’s idea, swivelling on a sixpence when necessary (piano and trumpet duos are not unusual: think Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines on their towering masterpiece, ‘Weatherbird’). Furthermore, as a tribute to two exceptional musicians, the album is accompanied by a booklet containing rare photos, extensive notes and incisive comments by Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Jon Batiste, Karriem Riggins, Keyon Harrold, Ambrose Akinmusire, Chris Botti, Robert Glasper and others.

A round of applause for the audio engineers who recorded the performances (Larry Clothier, Timothy Frey) and the patient people who mixed and fixed the album sound (George Klabin, Fran Gala and Gabriel Guper). A fitting tribute to two exceptional musicians.

Roy Hargrove, trumpet and flugelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano. Recorded live at the Kaufman Music Center in New York, NY, January 15, 2006 and Lafayette College, Easton, PA, November 9, 2007.

In Harmony is released on CD on 23 July 2021. A Limited Edition 180-gram LP will be available on 17 July at participating Record Store Day retailers.

LINK: In Harmony at Resonance Records

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