Thursday, April 3, 2014

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove - "The Night of the Jewel-Studded Glove"

I can't quite recall if I read somewhere, or heard it said, that trumpeter Roy Hargrove was the 21st Century incarnation of Miles Dewey Davis III. So, to satisfy my own curiosity, I went to see him perform at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

Jazz Trumpeter Roy Hargrove
Hargrove does have a striking, young Davis, chiseled, welterweight, physical build. He visibly exudes cool Milesian confidence and authority in his playing; and the signature Davis mannerism - though not as overtly as Miles -of turning away from the audience, but not his back, when he is not playing his trumpet. He does however, acknowledge applause. His soloing technique is smooth, thoughtful and crisply coherent. Like Davis, he builds his solos with a keen sense of force, logical lyricism and searching clarity; not ending them unimaginatively by prematurely finishing his phrases. But...he eschews the early ultra-conservative Davis' riveting, consistent, 'on stage', sartorial elegance, though on this night, he managed to demonstrate enough sparkling theatre to upstage both "The Prince of Darkness,"and "The King of Pop," when he emerged on the bandstand wearing a single, jewel-studded glove, with flashing multi-color lighted fingertips on his right hand. His suit was exquisitely tailored to fit his svelte frame, and his wrap-around sunglasses were vintage Miles.

The band for this appearance - a quintet - consisted of Justin Robinson - alto saxophone; Sullivan Fortner - piano; Ameen Saleem - bass; Quincy Phillips - drums; Roy Hargrove - trumpet/flugelhorn.

Alto saxophonist Justin Robinson
Hargrove managed to attract a full house for his Sunday Night show, mainly because he is such a draw in the San Francisco Bay Area, and on this occasion, probably because the following day, Monday, January 16, was Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He opened the 8pm show with Peter de Rose and Bert Shefter's beautiful ballad (The Lamp Is Low). Hargrove took the first solo on open trumpet, blowing carefully and eloquently as blue lights on the fingertips of his bejeweled right hand glove undulated eerily in the club's dim light as he manipulated the valves on the horn. I am not sure if the lights' effect was a distraction, or a spectacle, however seeing it for the first time, it seemed, well...strange! Hargrove though, soon turned the stage over to alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, walked over the the right end of the stage and was seen transfixed, sequencing the glove's fingertip lights through a series of red/green/blue colors...uummm interesting, but still strange!

Anyway, I turned my attention over to Robinson's alto saxophone, and I became transfixed by his speed and dexterity moving through the registers. Though impressed by his playing, my personal opinion then, and throughout the remainder of the program during solos, and duets with Hargrove, was that the tenor saxophone would have been a better tonal fit, because the tenor's burnished sound hangs better in a large room, and in this instance, I thought the tenor saxophone combined with Hargrove's rounded, smooth flugelhorn would produce a deeper, more intimate sound and feel: but I do admit a strong bias towards the tenor and tenor players!

Pianist Sullivan Fortner
The quintet continued its tune-up on Duke Pearson's (Is That So), which featured an excellent duet between Hargrove and Robinson, leading into pianist Cedar Walton's hard-bop (Hindsight), with Hargrove now showing great confidence in his dynamite rhythm section, as they took off into the night like worked up kids at a Saturday night fish fry. The other significant events in this set saw Hargrove finally dispensing with the now 'famous jeweled glove,' and settling the audience into a new zone of wonderment and comfort by changing to his flugelhorn, on which he is nakedly stellar. The quintet hit its stride, shifted its focus, and fired up James Williams' (Alter Ego), with Hargrove becoming more daring in his approach, creating more space for Robinson's alto, letting him go as far out as he wanted, but not hesitating to ease him back from the ledge with cool, coherent lyrical oversight. Bassist Ameen Saleem, reacting with a deep understanding of the conversations taking place within the group, became a dominant force during this segment reaching down deep, for a well-rounded, melodic beat that accommodated a particularly energized polyrhythmic exchange between drummer Quincy Phillips and pianist Sullivan Fortner, punctuated and accented by Fortner's marvelously understated, harmonic vignettes that stilled the capacity crowd and garnered for (Alto Ego) one of the most sustained applause moments of the evening.

Pivoting perfectly from hard-bop to Jimmy Dorsey's lush standard (I'm So Glad There Is You, (In This World of Ordinary People)) showing the quintet's collective mastery at changing moods, or tempos, without anxiety or sacrificing form, and simultaneously providing a window for an intimate look into the artistic and professional relationship between Hargrove and his exceptional pianist Sullivan Fortner : two consummate performers joined at the heart, relating through a magical ether; communicating by subtle nuance with clarity and unambiguous dedication; and harvesting a vast crop of musical ideas planted during their youth.

Bassist Ameen Saleem
Another exhibition of the awesome alto 'chops' of Justin Robinson and his take on an uptempo version of Bronislau Kaper's (Invitation), soon developed into a serious rhythmic chase between himself and drummer Quincy Phillips. Phillips is best appreciated as a very efficient, supporting element within the context of the rhythm section as a unit. Though not as rhythmically complex or sonically overpowering in his playing, as say, Blakey, or Elvin Jones, he does have blurring hand speed and a propulsive drive that was licking hungrily at the flames from Robinson's alto saxophone, until Hargrove, displaying an uncanny sense of timing and cool, took control, and saw everyone home safely and soundly. (Invitation) turned in to the most sizzling tune of the show, and everyone felt its heat.

Drummer Quincy Phillips

To end the evening, Hargrove and the group treated the audience to an extended groove of blues, funk and gospel, laced with subtle humor and a dizzying array of quotes with an agility that made them difficult to categorize or identify. Hargrove is without doubt one of the most important, young jazz trumpeters on the contemporary jazz scene. He shares some common traits with Miles Davis, not Davis' 'Harmon mute, Heim mouthpiece, close to the microphone voice,' but some of his style. He is electrifying, exciting, well trained, traveled, and super accomplished on both trumpet and flugelhorn, his repertoire is vast, he respects his musicians, gives them all the space they need (Like Miles gave Coltrane) and knows a thing or two about dressing.

There is a certain urbane cachet that informs Hargrove's performances, and the choices he makes of music, musicians, and composers. Simply put, he has a knack for selecting winners and gems. The guy has class, no doubt: he closed out the evening by descending from the stage, and strolling among the audience as he and Justin Robinson blew their horns until they reached the exit; the rhythm section remained on the stage playing; after a few moments, the drummer put away his sticks and quietly departed; seconds later, the bassist carefully laid his instrument down, leaving the pianist with the honor of playing the definitive note of the evening that cleared the deck, and the room. This was the cleanest, most orderly exit of a group of musicians from a bandstand I have witnessed.

No one asked for an encore! It was that cool! 

Watch Roy Hargrove play "Invitation"

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