Just Imagine the Dave Miller Trio


JUST IMAGINE / TAYLOR: One for the Woofer. RODGERS-HART: You Took Advantage of Me. BRYANT: The Bebop Irishman. EMERICH: I’d Love to Make Love to You. S. JONES: Bittersweet. G. & I. GERSHWIN: A Foggy Day. D. KAHN: A Beautiful Friendship. PARKER: Confirmation. LEGRAND: You Must Believe in Spring. ARLEN: This Time the Dream’s on Me. J. HALL: Careful. MANDEL-WEBSTER: A Time for Love. CAHN-VAN HEUSEN: All My Tomorrows. HENDERSON-DE SYLVA-BROWN: Just Imagine / Dave Miller, pno; Chuck Bennet, bs; Bill Belasco, dm / Summit Records DCD 753

This disc, due for release on October 4, is pianist Dave Miller’s tribute to the late George Shearing, whom he credits for his interest in bebop. It consists, however, of tunes that Shearing may have played but which weren’t among his hits.

From the opener, Billy Taylor’s One for the Woofer, one is aware of the tightness of this band. Bassist Chuck Bennet and drummer Bill Belasco form a tight-knit unit with Miller’s piano, and in fact in the theme statement the bassist plays in unison with the pianist. On You Took Advantage of Me, Bennet and Miller play in counterpoint to one another in the opening chorus. This is a style of jazz that has all but disappeared nowadays, when jazz groups desperately try to show their individuality by having the drummer displace beats consistently throughout a performance and the bassist is generally on his own planet as well, but to hear music played this way is very refreshing.

As an improviser, Miller is ingenious without trying too hard to be outré. His solos all have an inner logic to them, although at times he can be predictable in the directions he takes. This is not to say that he is mundane so much as than he is not quite as adventurous as many of his peers. To a certain extent his method of keeping the performances short works in his favor; he does not overstay his welcome in any of these tracks, but says what he wants to and gets out. I was particularly delighted by a tune I’d never heard before, The Bebop Irishman, which starts with a bit of Celtic interplay before moving on to more complex improvising. On this one, Miller uses more chords in his solo to generate excitement and drummer Bill Belasco has some tasty breaks.

I’d Like to Make Love to You also features the trio as a tight-knit unit, albeit at a more relaxed, walking tempo. I can’t say that Miller uses a great many Shearing-isms in his playing; he clearly has his own style; but in the intros and outros there are strong allusions to the Shearing style.

Yet one must remember that the “Sharing sound” that he created in the early 1950s with his Lullaby of Birdland quintet was bebop in reductio. The British pianist played much more fiery bop in the late 1940s, much of it captured on records, so much so that he became viable competition for Bud Powell, who couldn’t play his incredible locked-hands style with the speed and accuracy of Shearing. I strongly urge all readers to check out Shearing’s late-‘40s records, some of them, believe it or not, played on the accordion!  (Art van Damme had nothing on Shearing as a jazz accordionist, believe me.) Miller approximates some of this locked-hands style on Bittersweet, to excellent effect.

The Gershwins’ A Foggy Day opens as a ballad, played solo by Miller, who provides his own counterpoint in the right hand. This also comes close to the Shearing style without being a carbon copy. A Beautiful Friendship is taken at a surprisingly slow pace, almost making a semi-ballad out of it, but Miller’s solo has a nice, easy swing that is infectious. Charlie Parker’s Confirmation is also taken a shade slower than usual, its irregular bop rhythms straightened out a bit. I’m not so sure that Bird would have approved, but I guess Miller’s Northern Californian audiences like it that way. In his solo, however, Miller suddenly jumps to double time, which is much more appropriate, for a few bars.

After the ballad You Must Believe in Spring, the trio plays a nice, crisp, medium-up version of This Time the Dream’s on Me, which features more nice interplay between Miller and Bennet. I particularly liked their treatment of Jim Hall’s Careful, with its quasi-calypso beat, Miller picking his way through the tune as if trying to dance in a field full of landmines. Belasco switches to bongos for this one, and has a nice solo to boot. Following this, Miller plays an extraordinary chorus in which his two hands play opposing figures as the rideout.

Johnny Mandel’s A Time for Love is another ballad (in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t much like jazz ballads as a rule, and thus don’t pay much attention to them). Sammy Cahn’s All My Tomorrows is taken at a nice, lilting medium tempo, with Miller swinging nicely throughout, but alas the finale, Just Imagine, is—you guessed it—another ballad, this one played solo by the pianist.

For the most part, however, this is an interesting and very well-played disc. If you are tuned into the “classic” Shearing sound, you’ll be hooked.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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