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Mulgrew Miller: Live at the Kennedy Center, Volume One

Even before Derrick Hodge’s bass and Rodney Green’s drums kick in, you can tell from the clean edges of Mulgrew Miller’s piano notes that the sound of this live recording is going to be good. Then you look and see that the engineer was David Baker, whose premature death in 2004 was a great loss to jazz. This album was recorded in September of 2002 on the opening night of the KC Jazz Club at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., but was not released for four years. It is wonderful to hear David Baker’s work again.

Another of the sure things in jazz is a night with Mulgrew Miller. His complete first set at the KC Jazz Club (there will be a Volume Two from MAXJAZZ featuring the second set) includes five extended, in-depth explorations of two standards, a bop staple and two originals. Miller possesses the level of creative authority that allows the listener to simply surrender the evening to his trustworthy hands. “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” is richly updated bop history, each fast chorus forming a fresh, elaborate design. Miller’s 12-minute “Skylark” is one of the most comprehensive tributes to Hoagy Carmichael on record, patiently evolving fresh tempos, keys and harmonic perspectives and always revealing the song.

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