Joe Magnarelli – Live at Smalls – Smalls Records

Joe Magnarelli – Live at Smalls – Smalls Records SL 0034, 67:58 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ***½:

(Joe Magnarelli – trumpet; Mulgrew Miller – piano; Dwayne Burno – bass; Jason Brown – drums)

Reviewing Joe Magnarelli’s new quartet recording was a bittersweet experience. Joe has always been one of my favorite unsung trumpet players. He is a major talent, and although he has recorded seven CDs now, and is a first choice sideman, he is not well known outside of the Big Apple. He recorded for Criss Cross Records between 1995-2006, and their reputation as the “Blue Note type” label for mainstream and hard bop jazz musicians is solid. However, Criss Cross has scaled back lately in releasing new material. So I imagine that Joe is looking for a new label…

The bittersweet part of seeing Joe’s entry into the roster of live recordings that Smalls Jazz Club has released, was finding that Mulgrew Miller was the pianist on the August/September 2012 dates. Smalls Records had this release ready for issuance when Mulgrew passed away at the end of May, as there is no mention of Miller’s passing on the CD notes. His death at the age of 57 hit the jazz community hard as Mulgrew was in the highest echelon of jazz pianists, both as an artist in residence for major jazz festivals, and as an elite recording artist. His appearance as a sideman here shows his admiration for Magnarell.

There are only six tracks on this live recording; three are standards, with two of Joe’s tunes added. All but one track are over eleven minutes long, so the quartet’s members get to stretch out. Dwayne Burno’s bass is recorded warmly, and the drum set is upfront in the mix. I found myself listening extra carefully for Miller’s solos and comping, savoring the chance to hear Mulgrew’s talent with fresh ears. His fingers glide across the keyboard effortlessly, and the quartet seems inspired by his presence. Mags’ tone on trumpet is burnished, and his mid-register talent brings to mind Blue Mitchell.

“Ruby My Dear” deserves special mention for Mulgrew’s opening solo, and Magnarelli follows with a tender statement. Jason Brown shines on Joe’s tune, “Third Set.” Hard bop heaven can be found in “Skee” which would be at home on a ’60s Blue Note live date.

(Fans of Joe Magnarelli will also appreciate his “with strings” CD, My Old Flame, reviewed here in 2011.)

TrackList: My Ideal, Ruby My Dear, Invitation, Third Set, Skee, I’ll Find You

—Jeff Krow

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