Steve Million | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Steve Million 

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Pianist Steve Million has played long enough and in enough different settings--from Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet to his own odd little two-keyboard band Monk's Dream--to qualify as a genuine fixture on the Chicago scene. And his three albums for Palmetto, recorded with a quintet featuring top-notch New Yorkers Chris Potter and Randy Brecker, have plenty to recommend them, including a chance to hear those name musicians interpret Million's inventive tunes. But like most good pianists, Million sounds best in the stripped-down context of a trio--it's the ideal setting for his soft touch and nuanced attack, and allows him to imbue his solos with more energy and focus. All of which explains why his fourth effort, the brand-new Poetic Necessities (Blujazz), recorded with fellow Chicagoans Dave Marr on bass and Tim Davis on drums, is easily his best. Million doesn't rely on fireworks or flash; the impact of his work comes in the steady accretion of ideas over the course of an improvisation and the gorgeous details of his interaction with the rhythm section--elements which are more in evidence on the new disc than on its predecessors. On his previous albums Million wrote most of the tunes; here he supplies only half, making room for a song by Marr, a lesser-known Monk ballad, a couple of unexpected standards, and Jerry Goldsmith's theme from the 1968 Sinatra flick The Detective. This selection frames his originals smartly, placing them in the context of the composers he's learned from. Fittingly, Million and company will celebrate the disc's release at the club that inspired one of his tunes, the bouncy and blowsy "Second Hand Smokin' (at the Green Mill)." Saturday, January 25, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

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