Pianist Mulgrew Miller mesmerizes in Gilmore Jazz Club show

by William R. Wood, Kalamazoo Gazette
May 5, 2008

KALAMAZOO -- The music of jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller was easy to get into and hard to leave.

Miller selected numbers by Duke Ellington, Hank Mobley and his originals ``Carousel'' and ``Eleventh Hour,'' among others, to introduce himself to Gilmore audiences on Sunday afternoon at Western Michigan University's Williams Theatre in the first of two shows in the Gilmore's Jazz Club series.

Miller was endlessly fascinating to listen to, both as a soloist and in a supporting role, adding rhythmic texture behind the solos of his five band members. But Miller impressed mostly as a bandleader Sunday.

His selection of voices -- the unique sound and styles of the band members he employed -- offered an intriguing and often sensational mix. He also let his Wingspan band members spread out musically and gave them lots of solo time on stage, which also allowed patrons to gain a greater sense of them.

Miller was joined by Steve Nelson on vibes, Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxes, Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Ivan Taylor on bass and Rodney Green on drums.

Wilson, who played in July in Kalamazoo for Fontana with his own group, was cerebral but also generated great heat with the sax. He offered some of the best moments of the night with just about every one of his solos. Beyond Miller, Wilson is the person to follow.

Eubanks had a warm tone, played with wise economy and impressed with a string of bebop runs while playing ``Eleventh Hour,'' from Miller's fine 2007 CD ``Live at the Kennedy Center, Vol. 2'' (Max Jazz Records). Vibraphonist Nelson also impressed with great elegance of form in a solo in ``Sophisticated Lady.''

``Beautiful!'' yelled one patron as the song concluded.

But it was certainly Miller's show as he slipped the familiar jingle of a childhood nursery rhyme into his ``Carousel'' and dropped lines from John Coltrane's ``Giant Steps'' into a rendition of Ellington's ``I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good).'' He also moved patrons to tap their feet when he played a bluesy, boogie-woogie piano solo, a segue into his ``Eleventh Hour.''