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Jazzology September: The Art Of Posi-Tone, Legends Collide: Roy Hargrove & Mulgrew Miller, William Parker Gets Wild & Free, Horizons Quartet Spans Generations

Pianist Art Hirahara Creates His Masterpiece. Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller Come Alive! William Parker Can Solve The World's Problems Through Music. The Horizons Quartet Disprove The Generation Gap.



     Keyboardist-Composer Art Hirahara hit The Big Apple running from San Francisco in ’03 to be where the action was jazz-wise. For his sixth Posi-Tone CD, Open Sky is a masterful excursion into all sorts of realms both rhythmically and melodic (except for the title tune which he purposely wrote with no melody). He’s added sax and vibes to his piano trio to exquisite perfection. Hirahara can go from electronica and worldbeat to post-bop and swing. His Balance Point album last year was a sonic beauty—as produced by label head Marc Free—and he and Free have upped the ante entirely with a multitude of directions.
     “Inimitably, Mr. B” is a tribute to his pianistic influence Kenny Barron. “Peony” may be a flower in Japanese art and a 1948 Pearl Buck novel about China, but here it’s a mellifluous classical piece. “Mia Bella” could be construed as soundtrack music to a movie that doesn’t exist. “Nao Tao Azul” and “Weathered The Storm” go the samba route. Duke Pearson’s 1967 “Empathy” is done in two different time signatures depending upon the section.
     There’s just no telling where this great piano man will venture next.

Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller

     Archival label Resonance Records has unearthed unreleased duo gigs from ’06 and ’07 by Texas trumpeter Roy Hargrove [1969-2018] and Mississippi pianist Mulgrew Miller [1955-2013]. The two-CD set, In Harmony, is a bountiful beautiful document of how two masters of their instruments can congeal with a magical chemistry, even on a flat-line chestnut like Cole Porter’s 1929 “What Is This Thing Called Love,” to make it new, vibrant and adventurous for over nine minutes. Benny Golson’s 1957 tribute to the tragic trumpeter Clifford Brown—who perished in a car crash at 25—takes from Donald Byrd’s original recording but adds the kind of touches that Hargrove was known for. His trills, stutters and full-on emotionality actually recalls the precocious genius known as Brownie. Then they go from samba (“Triste”) to Dizzy (“Con Alma”) and from funky fun (“Fungii Mama”) to Monk (“Monk’s Dream” and “Ruby My Dear). It ends with a Diz encore of “Ow!” and for the ample length of these two discs, these two legends come forcefully and impressively alive.

The late Roy Hargrove courtesy Ann Braithwaite

The late Roy Hargrove courtesy Ann Braithwaite

William Parker

     Painters Winter (Aum Fidelity), by composer/multi-instrumentalist/poet/activist William Parker, 69, (the native New Yorker who played alongside the legendary free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor [1929-2018] for the better part of a decade), presents this pioneering musician in a context he must love: more revolutionary sound yet accessible, entertaining, delicious and aggressively adventurous. His bass, trombonium (a compact trombone not manufactured since the 1950s) and shakuhachi (an ancient Far East flute) is augmented by the trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet and flute of Daniel Carter plus the drums of Hamid Drake on five of his long originals. Prepare to be elevated into another stratosphere.


     The self-titled debut of the Horizons Quartet (PM Records) made me smile while grooving hard. Tenor and Soprano Sax man Dan Wilkins, who wrote all eight tracks, is in his twenties. Bassist Gene Perla—who has played with Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis and Elvin Jones—is in his eighties. Somewhere in-between are Philadelphia drummer/educator Byron Landham—who teaches at Temple University and has played behind Betty Carter—plus pianist/organist/ James Collins (the secret weapon of this quartet and the student of Landham). Together they meander lovingly light as a breeze with airy interplay and deep chemistry, swinging hard in a post-bop universe of never-ending ideas with the 10:08 opener “Spiraling” kicking it all off in grand style. It doesn’t let up throughout. Bravo!

Horizons Quartet courtesy Lydia Liebman

Horizons Quartet courtesy Lydia Liebman