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Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony (Resonance)

A review of the two-disc set from the late musicians

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Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller: In Harmony
The cover of In Harmony by Roy Hargrove/Mulgrew Miller

This two-disc set was compiled from two different performances, one recorded at Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center in New York, in January of 2006, and the other at the Williams Center for the Arts at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in November of the following year. Aside from the quality of the music, the recordings are notable because they’re the only ones Roy Hargrove made without a drummer; Mulgrew Miller, who died in 2013, played a handful of drummer-less dates over the course of his career.  

With their unerring synergy and the deep-grooved rhythmic impetus they summon together, these artists do not seem at all to miss the presence of a stickman. Miller, of course, has the responsibility to make full use of both the piano’s melodic and rhythmic capacities, and he does so flawlessly throughout, as Hargrove deftly inserts his trumpet lines into the spaces Miller leaves open—often in unexpected places, heightening both tension and release. For the most part, Hargrove maintains a flat-timbred, vibrato-less tone (clearly the Miles influence), which means that the emotional depth of his playing is dependent solely on the musical ideas he germinates; no bathos or sentiment to make things easy, for either the listener or him. But on more celebratory outings such as “Con Alma” and “Invitation,” he overlays his tone with a brilliant sheen, pumping up both volume and intensity, with clarion-like ascents and upper-range testifying. His extended lines at times echo Clifford Brown’s with their fusion of dexterity and precision, as well as their recasting of classic bop patterns. Miller, meanwhile, confines his explorations primarily to his right hand, using his left as a rhythmic and chordal base on which to dance; his exploratory drive is focused and relentless.

As resolutely as these two highly disciplined improvisers hew to what are now considered conventional notions of melody, pitch, intonation, and harmony (glorying in the sometimes-forgotten art of extracting new riches from well-mined lodes), their music is never dry or pedantic. Even on ballads such as “This Is Always,” “I Remember Clifford” (which gives Hargrove full range to explore his Brownian side), and Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” a sense of irrepressible playfulness makes itself felt, as trumpeter and pianist toss ideas back and forth like ballplayers in a round of pepper: every moment new and sparkling, celebrating a brotherhood of the spirit bonded by joy, deepened by inspiration, and anointed with love.

Learn more about In Harmony on Amazon

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.