Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller In Harmony—A Not To Be Missed Upcoming RSD Release

On Sunday January 15th, 2006 following a blizzard, the late musical greats trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Mulgrew Miller flew into Newark Liberty International Airport, cabbed it to 449 seat Merkin Hall in the Kaufman Music Center near Lincoln Center—a venue with near perfect acoustics—and with no soundcheck or preparation and after standing in the wings and calling out some tunes, stepped onto the stage and delivered some of the remarkable music making documented on this two LP set. A second equally impromptu performance almost two years later (November 9, 2007) at Lafayette College in Easton PA where Miller lived with his family fills out the set of mostly standards indelibly performed.

Let’s stipulate at the outset here that unlike some Resonance Records releases unearthed by “jazz detective” Zev Feldman that are of greater musical than sonic interest (like Bill Evans Live at Ronnie Scott’s, which demonstrated that Jack DeJohnette’s engineering skills are inversely proportional to his musical talents, but which documents the stellar Evans-Gomez-DeJohnette trio soon thereafter broken up by Miles Davis who caught the show at Scott’s and recruited DeJohnette), this set is a sonic stunner (as is Monty Alexander Love You Madly: Live at Bubba’s a full blown 24 track analog audiophile quality double LP release for RSD “Black Friday” 2020 that’s now out of print on vinyl but you can find it “around”).

Both Hargrove and Miller died young, neither due to the “traditional” jazz afflictions. Miller, a lifelong teetotaler, suffered a minor stroke at 54 and despite subsequent weight loss and diet changes, suffered a second fatal one a few years later, at 57. Hargrove suffered from chronic kidney failure and had been on dialysis for his final 13 years, though he passed away November 2nd, 2018 at age 49 from cardiac arrest brought on by his kidney condition. Terrible losses. According to Larry Clothier, Hargrove’s manager and who’s credited with recording these concerts, the two musicians had spoken more than a few times about recording a formal duet album, but it never happened.

Miller’s career began as a youngster playing piano in Greenwood, Mississippi churches influenced by Ramsey Lewis. Later, still in Greenwood, he played r&b and soul music in cover bands. The life changer for him was at age 14 seeing Oscar Peterson on The Joey Bishop Show. After a few years in college at Memphis State University, Miller left, eventually winding up in Los Angeles, which led to touring with the Ellington band then led by Duke's son Mercer. He later accompanied Betty Carter, played in groups led by Woody Shaw, joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and then toured with Tony Williams’ quintet. His recorded output both as a side man and a leader was extensive.

Despite Hargrove’s adventurous late 90’s forays into hip-hop and soul (he’s on D’Angelo’s albums Voodoo and 2015’s Black Messiah [RCA 88875-05655-1 2 LPs--“no digital plug ins…all recording done to tape in the analog domain”], among many others) and his ‘70s funk era excursions with RH Factor, Hargrove was well steeped in the standards as demonstrated in full flower here.

The album opener, a 9 minute meditation on Cole Porter’s familiar “What is This Thing Called Love?” hews at first close to the melody after which Hargrove takes off and the two twist and turn, call and respond and set the agenda for the entire joyous set, which is rich with sly musical humor, skilled improvisation and melodic grace. There’s a startling moment in the opening tune where Hargrove “turns on a dime” from the outside improv to a melodic reprise in which you’d swear there must have been a “tape edit” that allowed him to swap out the trumpet for flugelhorn so abrupt is the timbral shift, but of course the tracks are “live” and the shift is attitudinal.

Another highlight (the entire two album set consists of “highlights”) is an appropriately elegiac tribute cover of Benny Golson’s “I Remember Clifford” that ends the first side. While much of the record focuses on beauty and balladry there’s an absolutely raucous crowd pleasing cover of Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama” from the Blue Note album The Thing To do. It’s the only track where the two truly let it rip, though they come close on a not quite mischievous cover of “Monk’s Dream”. A gutbucket Hargrove composition “Blues For Mr. Hill” seems intended to especially give Miller a chance to cut loose on his foundational training. He takes full advantage of the opportunity laying down some dazzling right hand stuff while anchoring it with his left. You’ll wallow pleasurably in this track, written by a trumpeter, honoring a pianist and gifted to another one!

Yet another highlight of this set is the full sized booklet featuring a series of heartfelt artist tributes written by Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, Ron Carter, Jon Batiste, Kenny Barron and many others worthy of listing but why turn this into a list? You’ll surely enjoy reading these remembrances, rich with tales of the artists’ encounters and performing points of view rather than dry journalistic analysis, though there’s some of that in Ted Panken’s opening notes.

Though all of the artist tributes and recollections were enjoyable and even memorable, Jon Batiste’s (he was on the road with Hargrove’s big band, quintet and RH Factor) for some reason stood out, perhaps because he talks about Miller’s mentorship and how their relationship developed. Just by chance while record 1 side b played and the stylus was riding through “Invitation”, I reached Batiste saying “I listened to ‘invitation’ over and over. There’s a line Mulgrew plays—something he used to teach me—to continue the scale through the harmony and delineate the harmony within the melodies without stopping; long, melodic, linear melodies that go through the whole harmony, almost like an expert painter who’s creating just the right contours and doesn’t break the brush stroke.” And as I’m reading that sentence, Miller plays that long beautiful brushstroke line. You’ll hear it.

Though two shows comprise the album, the annotation doesn’t specify which songs are from which concert. However, after a few listens it sounds as if the set opens in Merkin Hall because of the superior acoustics and the more reserved though enthusiastic audience response. The tracks recorded in the somewhat smaller 370 seat Williams Center for the Arts At Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, which I believe include at least all of side 4, have a somewhat brighter sonic tinge, with more apparent room reverb though the real giveaway is the enthusiastic hootin’ and hollerin’ you wouldn’t get from New Yorkers in a concert venue. If this is backwards, look for a mea culpa in this space!

The sound credits included “Mixing and sound restoration” by George Klabin and Fran Gala—names familiar to Resonance Records consumers. I don’t know what was in need of restoration on a relatively recent recording, but the sound is superb: three dimensional, with a good mix of direct and reverberant sound that puts you in the hall(s) close to the stage.

In Harmony is an absolutely stellar and important release—a gift—giving fans of two great artists gone way before their time an opportunity to hear them perform together in concert with nowhere to “hide” as they’d hoped one day to do in the studio. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I’d bet on fearless creativity and spontaneity before live audiences over playing to studio walls.

The $59.99 limited to 7000 copies double RTI pressed vinyl release is set for Record Store Day July 17th after which In Harmony will be CD and streaming only. To insure that you get a copy it would be worth your while for this record alone to arrive before the sun rises at your local record store and get on line.

Not surprisingly, Resonance chose the accessible “Blues For Mr. Hill” as the “advance single”, which you can listen to below:

simes_pep's picture

Hi, Is that a US RSD release, or a Worldwide with availability in Europe, as sometimes they are different, e.g. Paul Simon’s Still Crazy US RTI pressing vs Europe’s MOV?

Michael Fremer's picture
I really do not know...
jazz's picture

for the heads up and correct, the Bill Evans/@Ronnie Scott‘s is the biggest mess sonically of all those bootleg-like releases as well as it’s unbelievable that afaik Resonance produces DDA while 2xHD does AAD of the same albums.

Arvo Palm-Leis's picture

The Monty Alexander album mentioned above is available at Amazon:

Analog Scott's picture

was this an amplified live performance?

Michael Fremer's picture
There may have been a sound system for "the house" but it doesn't sound at all as if this is a board feed
JMiller's picture

Michael I saw Hargrove and his group play live at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Detroit one year before he died. I did not know of his ailments at the time, but he could barely walk in and he was so thin. Oh thou he played fantastic.

volvic's picture

But, I know by the time I get to the store, don't know which one will have it, I will be out of luck. I wish Resonance would simply print more of their vinyl releases, they are excellent.

Audiobill's picture

Sorry this is probably too late for you to use. I didn't see you post until a few minutes ago. You can go the the following website:
Enter your zip code. You will see a list of the stores arranged by distance from you. Click on a name of a store which is a link to the store's web site. My store has a page called RSD Drops. It lists the store's RSD inventory alphabetically, and I can see if the item must be purchased in store only (most are) or can be ordered online (late arrivals, maybe). My store updates its inventory in real time. A few records are still listed as "limited availability." Sadly, _In Harmony_ is not one of them.

Audiobill's picture

I took your advice and got up before sunrise, had some coffee, and drove over to Josey Records in Dallas. They claim to be the largest record store in Texas with over 15,500 sqft in floor space. They were opening early for RSD at 7 AM. When I arrived there was a line stretching all the way around the outside of their building. I joked with a guy next to me in line that maybe they had bought up all the toilet paper in town. It reminded me of the lines at Costco back in the early days of the pandemic. Once the store opened, we were let in to the building only to form another single-file line all the way around the perimeter of the interior. It took me until 8:45 to get to the bin where _In Harmony_ was available for purchase for $53.99. No other purchases were allowed until we paid for our RSD item(s). I got copy #1677. Thanks for the heads up, Michael. What a turnout! People of all ages and descriptions. Vinyl Rules!

Linmon's picture

I've been following Roy Hargrove since he was age 22, early 90's recording "Public Eye" album. I loved the way he played the ballads with such full sounding intonation and precise articulation. I was also very impressed with his attention to dynamic changes. I've often used this as a test track for shopping for gear, and the sales staff are also amaze of his sound and ask.. "who is this?" Its been one of my favorite recordings with his track "End of A Love Affair". I couldn't believe he was only 22 with such great talent. Was a very sad day for me when I heard of his passing as I wished I had the chance to see him perform Live. When I saw this in the RSD list... I had to commit to an early outing.. My copy of "In Harmony" #2205 - I started lining up at 4:30 AM at Neptoon Records in Vancouver, BC Canada. ...Coffeeeeee

Domino Joe's picture

Dear, Michael, how is it possible to give 9/10 to the SOUND of this double LP? Did You really hear it? sides 1 & 2 are full of ticks and pops, but really shameful is side 3 where the two instruments are distorted for all the side, every note distorted, and also this continues for large part of side 4... my copy is n. 4560 and i can also add that the label on side 4 is completely decentralized; quality issues a lot... I can understand the importance of this historic recording and the beauty of the executions, so OK for the MUSIC but SOUND QUALITY is really really bad...