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Given the tremendous level of artistry on these two concerts — duo performances featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller and Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn — it’s almost impossible to believe that the two hadn’t rehearsed. In fact, for the first concert (New York City, 2006), they didn’t even have time for a sound check and quickly selected standards while waiting in the wings. But audiences for both performances — the second gig taking place the following year in Easton, Pennsylvania, Miller’s hometown — must have left feeling elated and in awe.
The ballad selections, including “This Is Always,” “I Remember Clifford” and “Never Let Me Go,” are particularly affecting, as they showcase Hargrove’s sumptuous tone and Miller’s orchestral phrasing. Much more surprising are tunes such as Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama,” which would seem to require a percussionist yet sound fully complete despite the intimate setting: Miller drives hard with bass lines and Oscar Peterson-esque flourishes, and Hargrove sculpts decisive, captivating lines with wit and muscle — there’s a reason Jimmy Heath called him “Hardgroove.” Most of the pieces last more than eight minutes yet almost never falter in terms of energy and fluidity; in terms of symbiosis, this pairing rivals the legendary duo performances by Stan Getz and Kenny Barron. The title of this two-disc set, In Harmony, is both spot-on and an understatement.
Miller died in 2013 at the age of 57; Hargrove in 2018 at 49. The 50+ pages of essays and reflections, multigenerational perspectives ranging from Sonny Rollins to Common, do not shy away from the elegiac nature of this release. Several musicians also emphasize that Miller has been “overlooked” and “underappreciated.” If a single recording can right that wrong, it may be this one. —Sascha Feinstein