Millie & Mike Live
Thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number but such is not the case with the collection of thoughtfully chosen, beautifully arranged winners found here on Millie Edwards' and Mike Pagan's first - and hopefully not last - recorded collaboration. Well-known and highly popular, Millie and Mike invite you to enjoy this inaugural CD - recorded LIVE at one of Kansas City's favorite night spots, JARDINE'S. The lyrics in their opener, "...In a mellow tone, I've got company," define this partnership perfectly. Pagan's strong, swinging accompaniment and Edwards' bold, titillating vibrato (equal to that of a Met diva, with breath to spare) are a tandem to be envied. A change of pace, "The Very Thought of You," is another ideal pairing, this time extemporaneous and intimate. Millie's passionate reading evolves into Mike's brief bossa chorus, both then blending as the music fades. (Don't anybody breathe.) Pagan playfully boogies in "Sweet Home Chicago," showcasing Edwards' raucus and rompin' Blues chops. The stop-time will give you the grins...the chart will make you chuckle. "I've Got You Under My Skin" gets under yours in a most appealing way. This is an arrangement begging to be ripped off by performers of taste (and played/replayed by those content to listen). If you're not a fan of the samba, this cut is guaranteed to convert you. Millie's breathy, sensual vocal against Mike's pulsating syncopation - it's a match made in heaven. Mike provides another magical introduction to "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" which highlights Millie's skillful use of dynamics - soft, louder, crescendo, strong - in all the right places. After a gorgeous piano interlude, player and singer modulate into a moving resolution. A spritely keyboard ushers in "Just in Time," Millie's solo - understated, then full-throated and strong, artfully pausing now and then for effect. Pagan delivers a free-form fugue, then both dovetail into yet another ideal ending. Mike's playful piano gives way to Millie's hesitant first line (a terrific idea) in "Teach Me Tonight." Keyboard accents stalk her back-phrasing throughout, subsequently building to a big-time finish that rocks the room. And since we are just past the half-way mark, I'd like to wax eloquent about the performers: Millie is not a jazz singer who wanders aimlessly around the melodic hinterlands, returning covered with sloppy misses and tired ideation. Moreover, she has a mammoth (to be coveted) instrument, a vibrato that could topple trees, breath enough to float a sizable ship, a strong, sense of just how lyrics should be sung, and the ability to interpret and communicate those emotions so that the listener shares her heart. She is a jewel. Her musical partner, Mike, is one of the most complete musicians you'll hear anywhere. The fact that he has a doctorate notwithstanding, he commands the piano like a field general. He has the talent to follow through with any and all ideas that cross his fertile brain (you've probably discovered this by now) and obviously loves what he does. There's not a style he hasn't mastered and, wonder of wonders, he has the "feel" - the depth and breadth - to give it life. "Someone to Watch Over Me" is beautifully sung once through in stretch tempo, then Mike delivers a rhapsodic solo (which surely made the Gershwins blush 'up there') before ushering in a moving tandem ending. The next number, "The Lady is a Tramp," will remind you of how well-paced this package is. A mature and worldly Millie demands your attention (is that a growl I hear?), then Mike, fingers flying, takes a mind-spinning turn before Millie refreshingly closes with the rarely sung second verse. This rendition of "The Look of Love" will make you favor it all over again. Millie is warm, touching, intense; Mike's passionate double-time following her soliloquy morphs into a full-blown concerto and the fade ending just may leave you breathless. A get-down, stompin' boogie'n stride introduces "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" and Millie kicks this one to kingdom come. Don't be surprised if you find yourself joining in on the 'drink muddy water' repeats. Mike's ramblin' solo would make Fats Waller proud. Just when I thought I'd heard it all, a tempo-less "Time After Time" begins to play. This may be the sleeper...slow, romantic, lush. "Time After Time" without tempo. What a concept. Initially, a softer, gentler Millie introduces "Who Can I Turn To" atop Mike's definitive accompaniment but the song expands incrementally and it's far from the traditionally plaintive version. Edwards' strong, full-voiced declarative builds to a powerful crescendo finale, earning loud cheers and whistles from the appreciative crowd. M. & M.: They'll melt in your heart. -Carol Comer.