Mulgrew Miller Quintet - Wingspan

1987 – Landmark Records


I found this album while digging through a bin at a local bookstore. I knew Mulgrew was a great pianist (I remember his album with Ron Carter and Russell Malone from my college days) so I thought this record would be worth a shot (for $5 I didn’t have much to lose). Seeing Steve Nelson on vibraphone made this a definite purchase for me. I had heard his work playing with various Dave Holland groups, but hadn’t dug into his other recordings. Steve uses the vibraphone as a melodic instrument more than a chordal one. It sounds like he is utilizing two mallets instead of four. That being said, he makes the most out of those two mallets. His lines are interesting in their shaping, twists, and turns and the solo on “I Remember You” is a highlight of the album for me. I feel though, that his playing is too “perfect” like what you would expect a jazz vibist to do. In other words, nothing too creative or inventive (which is the opposite of what you hear on the Dave Holland records). I’ve noticed this with a lot of the jazz out there today (I know this album is from 30 years ago); technically the players are super proficient, but it lacks some of the soul. I’d much rather hear someone with an amazing feel and message play a solo with a few clams than a blazing fast show of chord/scale knowledge. I’m not saying that technical proficiency isn’t important, because it definitely is, but once you gain that dexterity on the instrument you have to move to the next level. I think a lot of players get stuck trying to emulate the great musicians of the past and forget that they need to try something new. If you don’t push yourself, what is the point of playing music? To show off your jazz chops to other musicians? With so many “perfect” playing musicians around these days, you need something more than that to distinguish yourself….o yeah, I was reviewing an album. My final thoughts on Wingspan: “Meh”. This record may not stay in my collection for long.