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January/February 2009

Steve Million
Remembering the Way Home
Origin Records

This album came about because Steve Million (a five-night-a-week working jazz pianist in Chicago) began studying classical music again. He says that the experience took him back to an early version of his playing, before he had committed himself to jazz. Remembering the Way Home is an attempt to capture the freshness of Million’s first discoveries of music, filtered through the knowledge and skills he has since gained.

It works. This album is a rapt, seamless blend of formal composition (spare, elegant, minimalist entities) and improvisation (searching reflection). Sometimes the classical presence is explicit, as in Scriabin’s “Prelude Opus 16 #3,” and in compact self-contained etudes like “Azusa Dreams” and “Mannequin Ballet.” But Million’s classical aesthetic flows into his exploratory spontaneity and becomes one process, one intensely personal journey. His primary purpose of emotional revelation is suggested by his titles: “A Heart So Full,” “Open The Book,” “My Explanation.”

Most of Million’s pieces are pristine, well-proportioned forms like “Missing Page.” But the best track here is the only fully improvised one, “Remembering,” whose halting fragments uncover deep thoughts and feeling to be shared. It is continually amazing how true jazz improvisers do better in the moment than when they have time to think.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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