Molly Miller has fierce fingers

Star players in their own right, the Molly Miller Trio form a supergroup with refined taste

When discussing the Molly Miller Trio, it’s tempting to run down a list of collective credits amassed by Miller (guitarist for Jason Mraz) and her heavyweight rhythm section, drummer Jay Bellerose (Sara Bareilles, Ray LaMontagne, Robert Plant) and bassist Jen Condos (Jackson Browne, Joe Henry, Stevie Nicks).

Tempting, but not necessarily illuminating. As an instrumental trio, they bring impressive musicianship, to be sure, but also refined taste that informs their arrangements of pop and jazz standards as well as Miller’s compositions.
Miller, who chairs the guitar department at Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena, has been playing guitar since she was 7 and approaches the instrument like a “relationship,” one that reveals things to her about herself as well as music. That connection is discernible in the way she wields her Gibson 335 onstage: alternately fierce, tender and playful, as her fingers articulate notes up and down the fretboard with light precision.

Jazz is the trio’s central meeting ground, but stylistically she leads them across broad pop, soul and rock terrain — taking a sultry stroll through Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” for instance, or jazzing up gospel chestnut “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” so it sounds like a jaunty two-step, or putting a moody, defiant edge on Ennio Morricone’s cinematic “The Vice of Killing.” Musicians’ musicians all, at their gigs it isn’t uncommon to spot other serious players in the audience, savoring the intuitive language that passes wordlessly between them in performance.

— Bliss Bowen

The Molly Miller Trio performs at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday (Aug. 22 and 23) at retro-styled cocktail bar Sam First, 6171 W. Century Blvd., Westchester. Advance tickets are $15, or $10 for students. Call (424) 800-2006 or visit samfirstbar.com.

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