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Mulgrew Miller: Chapters 1 and 2

Robert Spencer By

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Chapters 1 and 2 is a single-disc reissue of two of Miller's mid-Eighties releases – his first two as a leader: Keys to the City (1985) and Work! 1986. Miller is a versatile and well-traveled pianist whose work here shows his impressive pedigree to good effect: he's worked with Blakey, Betty Carter, Mercer Ellington, and a host of others. Buhaina would certainly appreciate the energy Miller brings to the proceedings, and Marvin "Smitty" Smith, the drummer on Keys to the City, chips in with press rolls and exuberance.

Keys to the City is a trio disc with Smith and bassist Ira Coleman. It contains liner notes by Orrin Keepnews, noting that Miller saw McCoy Tyner in concert in 1973 and, in Miller's words, "really got into him." No other influence is more profound throughout the disc, especially on the Miller originals "Song for Darnell," "Promethean" and "Saud's Run." The latter is a hard-driving tribute to Tyner, whose Muslim name is Suleiman Saud.

Elsewhere on Keys to the City the gentler touch of Wynton Kelly comes to the fore in Miller's playing. He takes Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," which was in fact recorded by Tyner with John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington's "Warm Valley," to lyrical heights that eschew the muscularity usually associated with Tyner. Mr. Davis' (first) "Milestones" is given a playful, jaunty rendering. Kelly is another acknowledged influence, and these tracks certainly recall that master's work.

Work! is another trio session, this time consisting of the fine pair of Charnett Moffett on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. The Tyner influence is still strong, but this album shows Miller consolidating that voice with the others that influenced him along the way, and blazing a path of his own. His "Sublimity" is another powerful Tynerian workout, but with lyrical touches entirely Miller's own. Moffett and Carrington are exceptionally sensitive accompanists on this track and throughout. His take on Vincent Youmans' "Without a Song" is bright and brisk, and "Powell's Prances" even more so, but he shows a delicate side on "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess. The title track (without the exclamation point) is a little-noticed Monk tune which Miller plays with a little less angularity and more straight-ahead force than the master himself might have given it, but his take is successful. And after all, Monk's tunes can stand up to all kinds of treatment. Not to say that Miller makes any misstep here: on the contrary, he displays again his imagination and virtuosity. Chapters 1 and 2 is a document to how much of both this too-often overlooked pianist has in reserve.


Title: Chapters 1 and 2 | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: 32 Records

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