Record Store Day (known this year as RSD Drops- July 17) is one we look forward to for special releases, and more particularly, the latest Resonance project. Now joining the label’s storied history of archival releases in this 2-LP/2-CD and digital offering of two of the most beloved jazz artists gone all too soon, playing as a duo. These previously unreleased recordings feature trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller from a January 2006 date at Merkin Hall in NYC and a November 2007 date at Lafayette College, in Easton, PA (Miller’s hometown). In keeping with Resonance projects, this comes with an elaborate booklet, photos, an essay from Ted Panken, and a staggering array of interviews and statements from contemporary and legendary jazzmen and personalities such as Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Common, Ron Carter, Jon Batiste, Karriem Riggins, Keyon Harrold, Ambrose Akinmusire, Chris Botti, Robert Glasper, has and others.
The Resonance team of Zev Feldman and George Klabin along with Larry Clothier, who recorded both performances, are at the helm here for the first posthumous Hargrove recording since his untimely passing in 2018 at age 49. As you’ll quickly learn through reading the material if you weren’t already aware, Hargrove was known for his versatility, his immaculate tone (especially on flugelhorn) but perhaps more than anything else, his mentorship, empathy, and willingness to share. Most of the accompanying copy in the booklet is devoted to Hargrove.
Miller also passed way too early at age 57 in 2013. Much of Ted Panken’s essay is devoted to late nights at Bradley’s in NYC where Hargrove, Miller, and several of the previously mentioned interviewees would jam. Miller had a singular, highly melodic piano style formed from his associations with Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Woody Shaw, and others. He embraced all the usual touchstones of Evans, Tyner, Hancock, Corea, Jarrett as well as the earlier generation of pianists such as Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk, ultimately landing mostly in the camp of the melodic ones like Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Cedar Walton.
Today we do not hear many trumpet-piano duos, but jazz history provides many examples beginning with Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, Harry Edison and Hines; and later with Oscar Peterson who teamed with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Jon Faddis, Edison, and Freddie Hubbard. Terry also has a remarkable album, One on One with 14 different pianists (Monty Alexander, Geri Allen, Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Don Friedman, Benny Green, Sir Roland Hanna, Barry Harris, Eric Lewis, John Lewis, Marina McPartland, Junior Mance, Eric Reed and Billy Taylor). We also recall Chet Baker and Paul Bley, Ruby Braff and Roger Kellaway, as well as numerous other straight-ahead and avant-garde duos but in contemporary times these duos are rare. Hargrove and Miller play in essentially in the same mode as the Peterson ones – standards and blues. But this setting is rare for both too as it marks the only time in Hargrove’s discography that he plays without a drummer and Miller has very few solo or duo albums in his catalog.
Hargrove is the link from the Woody Shaw-Freddie Hubbard-Charles Tolliver group to today’s Keyon Harrold, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Theo Croker to name a few but listening reveals echoes to forbears like Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Blue Mitchell, and others. We hear the bright tempo of “What Is This Thing Called Love” to open the NYC performance, the gorgeous flugelhorn tone in “This Is Always,” the jaw-dropping balladry of “I Remember Clifford,” a nod to Jobim in the classic “Triste,” Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” and perhaps the highlight of Disc one in “Invitation” which has such melodic lines running through the harmonics and is a classic example of the telepathic interplay between the two.
Disc two begins with two beautifully rendered ballads, “Never Let Me Go,” and the more mid-tempo “Just in Time,” containing some great exchanges in call and response mode between the two, before plunging into the deep funk of Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama,” where you might swear that you’re hearing a rhythm section due to the tight rhythmic vibe produced by just the two of them. That’s followed by two flawlessly rendered Monk tunes, a spirited “Monk’s Dream” and brilliant flugelhorn balladry and shimmering piano in “Ruby, My Dear” before the raw, gutsy blues of “Blues for Mr. Hill,” which is the clear standout not just of Disc 2 but perhaps the entire 2-disc set, and one cited by several of the artists interviewed in the booklet. Throughout, the interplay, the use of space, the timing of the solo transitions, and the natural, passionate leave-it-all-on-the-floor feel for the music is breathtaking. Treasure this one as truly special.