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Watch Riley Mulherkar's joyous Bryant Park concert, and an interview on The Pulse

Kevin Condon

Riley Mulherkar can do so much musically, as he's proven time and again since his arrival in New York in 2010. But for Mulherkar — a trumpeter, composer and bandleader still in his 20s — there's a special attraction in the cultivation of good feeling. He’s the sort of musician, like his fellow Juilliard alum Jon Batiste, who sees improvised music as a perfect delivery system for joy.

That much is clear within the first minute or two of his Bryant Park Picnic Performances set, which happened on July 31. Leading a whip-smart combo of his peers — Owen Broder on tenor saxophone, Mariel Bildsten on trombone, Miki Yamanaka on piano, Endea Owens on bass and Bryan Carter on drums — Mulherkar shows how much youthful energy and regal elegance can still cohabit in a straight-ahead frame.

Riley Mulherkar at Bryant Park Picnic Performances

Opening with a boisterous original, “Stompin’ on the Stoop,” the show moves on to Duke Ellington’s “Echoes of Harlem” (also known as “Cootie’s Concerto”), in a sparse arrangement featuring Owens. Then Mulherkar introduces a new song the band had never played before, a piece in waltz time called “The Kaleidoscope Blues.” (One of Mulherkar’s trumpet mentors is Wynton Marsalis, and you can hear some of that influence in this song.)

A special guest, singer Shenel Johns, then walks out to sing Ellington’s “I’ve Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good),” with a soulful authority that calls Dianne Reeves to mind. Johns stays on to sing the gospel song “There’s a New World Coming,” with spirited support from the band. And Mulherkar concludes this summer concert, which has progressed from dusk to nightfall, with more Duke: “Play the Blues and Go.”

In addition to his Bryant Park performance, co-presented by Greenwich House Music School, Mulherkar recently joined WBGO’s Keanna Faircloth for an episode of The Pulse. Their wide-ranging conversation includes a focus on The Westerlies, the genre-defying brass ensemble he formed with several friends from Seattle.

The Pulse featuring Riley Muherkar

The Westerlies recently released Bricolage, an album with classical pianist Conrad Tao. They join Tao in performing music from that album at Advent Lutheran Church in New York on Oct. 11, as part of its Music Mondays series.

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For more information about Riley Mulherkar, visit his website.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.