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Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony

Troy Dostert BY

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Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony
While the good folks at Resonance have labored mightily to unearth hidden gems from some of the undisputed legends of jazz—Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery and Sonny Rollins are just a handful worthy of note—more recent figures have been largely absent from their roster. But this excellent live document bucks the trend, recorded in 2006 and 2007 by two exceptional talents whose careers were cut short before they could finalize their own legacies as titans of the music.

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller emerged during the 1980s and 1990s in the company of fellow traditionalists like Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Wallace Roney and Joshua Redman. From the start, they were anchored in a foundational bop language, with strong ties to the spirit of jazz's past; Hargrove's With the Tenors of Our Time (Verve, 1994) made that connection explicit alongside veteran saxophonists Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson and Stanley Turrentine. But Hargrove in particular seemed characterized by a fundamental restlessness, as some of his later projects involved ventures into hip-hop and R&B/soul with musicians like D'Angelo and Common, as on his RH Factor's Hard Groove (Verve, 2006). Both players possessed phenomenal chops and a convincing mastery of jazz repertoire, but by the 2000s there was a question as to whether that would be enough to keep the music moving forward, and if loyalty to the tradition could become a springboard or a trap. While the music found on In Harmony doesn't resolve that question, as it remains very much of a piece with the musicians' traditional leanings, it's still a treat to hear these two side-by-side, working their way through well- chosen classics with panache and vigor.

Hargrove and Miller only recorded together a few times, and never on each other's leader dates. Joint appearances on Superblue, a Blue Note-assembled group put together in 1989; Antonio Hart's debut outing, For the First Time (Novus, 1991); and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band's Dizzy's Business (MCG Jazz, 2006) are about the extent of it. But the two performances captured here—one from New York's Merkin Hall and the other at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania—reveal a natural camaraderie that is evident from the opening notes of the lead track, "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Despite having different temperaments, with Miller typically known as the steady, soft-spoken workhorse while Hargrove had a more swaggering flash to his performing persona, the two merge beautifully here, completely in service to the music. Hargrove's jaunty insouciance is supported warmly by Miller, whose rhythmic verve matches the trumpeter's elan note for note. Indeed, his own solo statement possesses astonishing garrulity, with impressive runs galore.

Other standards like "Invitation" and "Just in Time" give the pair abundant opportunities to exchange ideas. "Con Alma" is a special highlight, with a stately elegance until Hargrove leads Miller into a stride-based segment that changes the feel completely; and the two weave their lines brilliantly as the track comes to a satisfying finish, returning to a zesty Latin flavor. There are a couple of Thelonious Monk numbers as well, with "Monk's Dream" and "Ruby, My Dear" sounding not the least bit derivative despite bearing all the charms of the master's handiwork. The latter is especially powerful, as it highlights Hargrove's way with a ballad—something that is continually evident throughout In Harmony. If anyone needs proof of Hargrove's mastery of the ballad form, one listen to his mellifluous flugelhorn on "Never Let Me Go" should put an end to all doubt. Crystalline in its precision and with the soft-hued colors that allow a listener to get completely lost in the tune, it's a marvel of emotional restraint; and Miller's unfailingly nuanced accompaniment is just as compelling, attuned to each of Hargrove's phrases with uncanny intuition.

The packaging is quite effective, in typical Resonance fashion, with a cornucopia of reminiscences from multiple generations: Rollins, Kenny Barron and Ron Carter weigh in on their experiences with Hargrove and Miller, but so too do Robert Glasper, Common, and Ambrose Akinmusire, pointing to the artists' continuing vitality as it is found in those now carrying their mantle. The only blemish on what is otherwise a stellar presentation of this material is the occasional flaw in the recording itself; clipping is sometimes audible on tracks like "I Remember Clifford," where the clarity of Hargrove's trumpet is marred somewhat by a distortion that does taint the otherwise impeccable beauty of his playing.

Although only time will tell if this music will rise to the classic status of so much of Resonance's output, there's a lot of very fine jazz on display here, and it's a wonderful glimpse of two young masters captured fortuitously in their prime.

Track Listing

What Is This Thing Called Love?; This Is Always; I Remember Clifford; Triste; Invitation; Con Alma; Never Let Me Go; Just in Time; Fungii Mama; Monk’s Dream; Ruby, My Dear; Blues for Mr. Hill; Ow!.

Personnel

Roy Hargrove: trumpet; Mulgrew Miller: piano.

Album information

Title: In Harmony | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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