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Mulgrew Miller at Dazzle Jazz in Denver, June 19, 2008

Geoff Anderson By

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Mulgrew Miller Trio
Dazzle Restaurant & Lounge
Denver, Colorado
June 19, 2008, First Set


In a rare Denver appearance Thursday, June 19, pianist Mulgrew Miller and his trio showed what sophisticated jazz is all about. Using a program of popular and jazz standards as a launching pad, the group swung through an evening of adult entertainment. No, wait a minute, not that kind. Miller plays elegant, grownup music that's tasteful, melodic and rhythmic.

Mulgrew Miller is an in-demand pianist, having played on over 400 recordings as both a side man and a leader and performing with most of the jazz greats at one time or another. Given his busy schedule, it's not surprising that he doesn't get to Denver very often, so his recent appearance here was an extra treat. He brought along a rhythm section about half his age in Ivan Taylor on bass and Ulysses Owen on drums. Although of a different generation, they were perfectly compatible with their employer. It's always a good indication that the band is laying down an effective groove when most of the heads in the audience bob in unison. That happened regularly.

An early influence on Miller was Oscar Peterson. Indeed, listening to him throughout the evening left the impression of a pianist whose style is somewhat of a cross between Peterson's lyricism and swing and McCoy Tyner's intensity and driving rhythm. Of course, like Peterson he can put the hammer down and break the speed limit by a considerable margin when he wants to, but more often he prefers to focus on the melody. Although Miller grew up playing a fair amount of blues and R&B, he incorporates strict blues forms and strains only occasionally. But that scarcity simply makes their appearance all the more delightful and dramatic.

Dazzle is not only a great place to listen to jazz, but the venue also has a killer kitchen, offering an irresistible combination of great food and great music. A downside to this best of both worlds announced itself at the end of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark," a beautiful, poignant ballad that in the hands of this trio was especially evocative. At the end of the trio's interpretation, the rhythm section laid out, leaving Miller to quietly wring as much emotion out of a grand piano as is possible for any human to do. The audience was hushed, enraptured and moved when, right in the middle of the spell, it was this reviewer's hand that was moved, hitting the handle of a spoon dangling over the edge of the table and causing it to bounce around the creme brulee bowl and onto the saucer with a loud and resonant, repeated CLANK.

Rationalizations and consolations are too easy at moments like these. The mood had to be broken sooner or later anyway, but better it had been by the well-deserved applause of the crowd—and for the music of the pianist, not the spoons player.



Set List: "A Sleeping Bee," "You and the Night and the Music," "Oh Grande Amour," "Monk's Dream," "Skylark," "Woody 'n You"


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