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Jazz Reviews : N.Y. Pianist Mulgrew Miller Fronts Local Trio

The New York-based pianist Mulgrew Miller, last seen in town as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger, is now working the club circuit as a leader. However, he has not yet reached the point at which he can take his own group on the road; consequently, he appeared Thursday at the Loa (where he will close tonight) with a local bassist, John Clayton, and drummer, Harold Mason.

Opening with a bright bop theme, Miller displayed formidable technique and a wealth of ideas, despite an occasional tendency to lean on 1940s cliches and 1950s George Shearing chord patterns. Moving beyond his hard bop origins, he brought a pensive beauty to his own composition “Song for Darnell.” The performance was enriched by enough harmonic invention, and the changes of tempo and meter, to sustain the interest despite its inordinate length.

John Clayton’s arco solo--he has long been a master of the bowed bass--illuminated the Frank Loesser 1950 song “If I Were a Bell.” Miller’s two-fisted excursions here stretched the boppish borders into brittle, breakneck explosions.

A welcome change of pace was the old ballad “Never Let Me Go,” embellished so gracefully that Miller seemed to be composing it himself. Here again, Clayton’s arco interlude was the high point.

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Mason underlined the beat with consistency, taking the requisite fast tempo solo on the closing number, a Charlie Parker blues piece entitled “Relaxin’ at Camarillo.”

Whether Miller is ready to keep up a career as a soloist is questionable. That he possesses the makings of a first-rate improvising jazzman is beyond doubt.


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