COMPOSERS: Mulgrew Miller
LABELS: RCA Novus
ALBUM TITLE: Hand in Hand
WORKS: Hand in Hand
PERFORMER: Mulgrew Miller (p); Eddie Henderson (t); Kenny Garrett (as); Joe Henderson (ts); Steve Nelson (vib); Christian McBride (b); Lewis Nash (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 01241 63153 2
These albums, from two highly praised young virtuoso pianists, represent the stylistic dilemma that confronts the ever-growing body of young musicians whose style is rooted in that of the bop and hard bop pioneers of 30 to 40 years ago.
Mulgrew Miller (born 1955) has worked at the coal face of jazz – with the Duke Ellington Orchestra directed by Mercer Ellington (1977-79), Betty Carter (1980), Woody Shaw (1980-83), Johnny Griffin (1983), Art Blakey (1983-86) and the Tony Williams Quintet (from 1986 onwards).
Constantly challenged by demanding leaders who value originality above all else, Miller’s style has gradually been cleansed of cliché, so that today he presents an unfussy lyricism, a sure but delicate touch underpinned by a sound technique and calm logic. Hand in Hand has a roll call of exceptional – and in the case of Joe Henderson, great – musicians who force Miller to keep at the top of his game. This sort of peer pressure has made him one of the most interesting and able musicians of his generation.
In contrast, Marcus Roberts (born 1963), is primarily a solo pianist (he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 1987). He had a brief season in the sun of Wynton Marsalis before striking out on his own again.
Roberts’s style has groped further and further back into history. It is now defined by historical precedent rather than original conception. Playing in an adopted voice of a James P. Johnson or an Earl Hines may be fine in theory, but his conservatory-cool dissertations smack of the earnest bookworm, untouched by life’s experiences. Stuart Nicholson