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Billy Taylor and Gerry Mulligan: Live at MCG

Joel Roberts By

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Dr. Billy Taylor has spent so much of the latter part of his nearly sixty-year career in jazz as an educator and broadcaster that it's easy to forget what a brilliant pianist he is. This splendid 1993 date, billed as his first-ever performance with the late baritone sax legend Gerry Mulligan, should serve as a reminder of Taylor's often overlooked talents—as well as a valuable addition to Mulligan's legacy.

The album features the two veterans, Taylor, then seventy-two and Mulligan, sixty-six, in a live recording culled from a series of shows at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, a nonprofit venue with a deep commitment to jazz and an exceptional catalogue of CDs. Together, Taylor and Mulligan, ably backed by bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Carl Allen from Taylor's working group of the time, cover a set of familiar standards—"Stompin' at the Savoy, "Just You, Just Me, "Body and Soul, "Darn That Dream —that might seem hackneyed in less capable hands. But these masters perform the old tunes with infectious enthusiasm and fresh ideas; for instance, treating the Jerome Kern chestnut "All the Things You Are as an improvised piece of chamber jazz on a memorable duet. Throughout the album, they convey a tangible sense of joy and ease in their playing and in each other's company—the byproduct of artists who've established their reputations and have nothing to prove.

Taylor, who remains extraordinarily active to this day despite having announced his 'retirement' as a performer a few years ago, is in fine form here, presenting the sophisticated brand of bebop that's been his trademark since he appeared alongside the likes of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday in the 1940s. And, of course, there are few sounds in jazz as distinctive—and as sorely missed—as Mulligan's deep, resonant baritone saxophone. Recorded just two years before his death, Mulligan displays the remarkable nimbleness and tenderness on the unwieldy instrument that made him its foremost practitioner.

Track Listing: Stompin' at the Savoy; Just You Just Me; Darn That Dream; All the Things You Are; Laura; Line for Lyons; Body and Soul; (Back Home Again In) Indiana; Come Sunday; Capricious.

Personnel: Billy Taylor; piano; Gerry Mulligan; baritone saxophone; Chip Jackson; bass; Carl Allen; drums.

Title: Live at MCG | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: MCG Jazz

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