Mulgrew Miller – The Sequel
(MaxJazz – 2002)
by Shaun Dale
Named the “most in-demand pianist” by a New York Times poll, Mulgrew Miller has stayed so busy that you might hardly notice his seven year recording hiatus as a leader, which came to an end with the release of The Sequel. To mark the occassion, he reassembled Wingspan, the sextet he first put together 15 years ago. In addition to Miller, the lineup includes Steve Nelson (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto & soprano sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Richie Goods (bass) and Karriem Riggins (drums). Straight-ahead jazz performed by solid musicians should be far easier to find than it often is, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than The Sequel.
One of the things that makes it too rare is the challenge of finding players who can work effectively in ensemble. Great solo chops aren’t the only talent required to make great jazz, and in Wingspan, Mulgrew Miller has found a set of accomplices with the ability to be truly complementary. They’re each capable of taking a memorable break when the occasion comes around, but far more impressive, and enjoyable, is the cohesion they demonstrate when interacting.
One of the stated goals of Miller’s hiatus as a leader was the development of music that was “less cluttered,” and his arrangements, whether for two pieces or seven, demonstrate a profound realization of that goal. He’s created an album that’s instantly accessible, yet infinitely interesting. As is so often the case with truly good music, that interest is often held as much by what’s not played as by what is.
The entire unit appears on four tracks, with four more featuring a septet without Eubanks. The two remaining cuts are a duet between Miller and Steve Wilson’s soprano sax on Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” and a classic piano trio treatment of “It Never Entered My Mind” with Goods and Riggins. Other than the latter two, all the tracks are Miller originals. Standout tracks include the trio, the title cut and Miller’s “Elation.”