Mulgrew Miller, one of the best-known and busiest pianists in Jazz, goes back to his roots on The Sequel, which reunites him with Wingspan, the quintet he formed more than fifteen years ago, for his first recording as a leader in seven years (during which time he appeared as a sideman on more than two hundred albums). Miller wanted his return to be special, and it is. The captivating program consists of eight of Miller’s superlative compositions for the quintet, Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” (a beguiling duet for Miller and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson) and Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind,” beautifully performed by Miller, bassist Richie Goods and drummer Karriem Riggins. Miller’s compositions are melodically pleasing, harmonically enterprising, rhythmically strong, and best of all, they swing. The quintet confronts each of them with the proper measure of adeptness and enthusiasm, proving time and again that this reunion was more than “Just a Notion,” as one of Miller’s tunes avers. The leader’s solos are bright and resourceful, as are those by Wilson (who splits time between alto and soprano), vibraphonist Steve Wilson and trumpeter Duane Eubanks (who is heard from less often than the others). Riggins is showcased on “Spectrum” and makes the most of the opportunity, while he and Goods forge the rhythmic bedrock on which everyone stands. Their proficiency is immediately apparent on the spirited “Go East Young Man,” whose vibrant Asian-influenced melody is a prelude to impressive statements by Eubanks, Wilson (soprano), Nelson and Miller. The pace slows on “The Sequel,” giving Miller a chance to stretch, while “Elation,” which follows, includes animated solos by everyone save Riggins. Miller also wrote the gentle ballad “Holding Hands” (warmly introduced by his unaccompanied piano), the forward-looking “Know Wonder,” the groovy “Just a Notion” (perfectly suited to his buoyant piano style) and the brisk and colorful finale, “Samba D’ Blue.” This is one of those rare Sequels that overshadows its precursor.
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