Benny Golson Jazztet, Mulgrew Miller Trio | Symphony Center | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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Benny Golson Jazztet, Mulgrew Miller Trio 

When: Fri., Jan. 30, 8 p.m. 2009
Price: $24-$83
In January’s issue of Down Beat, saxophonist and composer BENNY GOLSON pointed out that, of the 57 jazz musicians captured in Art Kane’s famous 1958 photo “A Great Day in Harlem,” he’s one of only six still alive. Last Sunday he turned 80, and the night before he had a party at the Kennedy Cen­ter—a celebration he’s definitely earned. His new album, New Time, New ’Tet (Concord), revives the name of his most celebrated group, the Jazztet, where he shared the front line with trumpeter Art Farmer for a string of crackling albums in the early 60s. Though New Time isn’t a particularly notable addition to his discography, it proves that the man who wrote enduring standards like “I Remember Clifford,” “Along Came Betty,” and “Whisper Not” has still got some gas in the tank. His arrangements of material by Chopin, Verdi, and El DeBarge don’t seem to have much to do with the original Jazztet’s classic bebop sound, but the band does a respectable job with them. For this show the lineup is the same as on the album: trumpeter Eddie Henderson, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams, and drummer Carl Allen. MULGREW MILLER is becoming the Tommy Flanagan of his generation. He doesn’t have Golson’s gift for writing unforgettable tunes, but his versatility, modesty, good taste, and unerring swing make him an exemplary mainstream jazz pianist—reliable but never dull. Miller doesn’t try anything fancy on the two volumes of Live at the Kennedy Center, the latest of four excellent trio discs he’s cut for MaxJazz. What he does do, on a few sturdy originals and standards like “Old Folks,” “Skylark,” and “Relaxin’ at Camarillo,” is draw on his impressive fluency in blues and gospel to color his confident, wide-ranging performances—he toys with tempo, compressing and dilating it, and goes from full-on ten-finger wallops to nuanced caresses. The tunes stick to the tried-and-true head-solos-head structure, but the details in Miller’s playing—a wry rhythmic displacement here, a gutsy low-end eruption there—prevent them from sounding perfunctory. He’s supported by drummer Rodney Green (who’s also on the new albums) and bassist Ivan Taylor. Golson headlines and Miller opens. —Peter Margasak

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