Kenny Barron teaches by simply playing piano duets with his students. The late Mulgrew Miller, 12 years Barron’s junior, was closer to peer than student (and taught at New Jersey’s William Paterson University while Barron was teaching at Rutgers). Nevertheless, the three summits compiled on the wonderful The Art of Piano Duo – Live add up to a serious education in grace, joy, and mutual inspiration.
Each disc contains a concert (one in Marciac from 2005, two in Zurich from 2011); they’re better digested as three interrelated but standalone works. They also make more sense that way. On the Marciac concert, Barron—in the left channel, some spillover notwithstanding—is on fire. He blazes through “Stars Fell on Alabama” and “Blue Monk” and gives a charming solo reading of his own “Song for Abdullah.” Miller is hardly off his game, per his choruses and counterpoint on “Recordame” and a tender solo “It Never Entered My Mind.” It’s more like Barron had taken an extra vitamin that day.
Both Zurich concerts arrive at a draw. The younger pianist attacks “It Could Happen to You” with more relish on the May 12 disc, while Barron’s deeper bebop language has the advantage on May 14’s “Yardbird Suite”; Miller puts unimaginable warmth into “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” his feature of the 14th, and Barron’s 12th spotlight, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” is the album’s most moving moment.
The Art of Piano Duo is at its best, however, when the pianists interlace. Their tandem swing is unyielding throughout; they constantly spur each other to new heights on two performances of Monk’s “I Mean You,” and throw exclamation points across the concert grand on Zurich’s “Have You Met Miss Jones.” Fans of either pianist will find triumphs here.
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