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Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan: Live at MCG

Pianist Billy Taylor has collaborated with so many extraordinary musicians over the years, onstage and on NPR, that it’s easy to take such encounters for granted-that is, until something as welcomed as this recording arrives unexpectedly and delivers one thoroughly enjoyable performance after another.

Recorded live at Pittsburgh’s Manchester’s Craftmen’s Guild in 1993, the album finds Taylor in a very familiar setting, accompanied by his longtime trio mates-bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Winard Harper-and hosting a special guest, in this instance, very special. Baritone saxophonist Mulligan sounds perfectly at ease with the company he’s keeping and with a mostly standards repertoire.

Beginning with “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” the arrangements inspire plenty of unfussy swing and spirited exchanges, with Jackson and Harper in typically nimble form. Now and then Mulligan stretches out, soulfully during a seven-minute reprise “Darn That Dream,” vibrantly during the self-penned “Line for Lyons” and with gliding finesse on “Body and Soul.” “Line For Lyons” is also distinguished by the trio’s rambunctious brand of interplay and Taylor’s jaunty chromaticism and cascading runs.

Back-to-back performance of “Indiana” and “Come Sunday” juxtapose playful and prayerful tacks, with the Ellington theme providing a particularly appealing (and emotionally yearning) showcase for both the reedman and the pianist. The session ends on a festive note thanks to the calypso-flavored “Capricious,” a Taylor-made tune that proves rhythmically contagious from the opening bar.

Originally Published