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Roy Hargrove Quintet at Jazz at the Centre

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Roy Hargrove Quintet
Jazz at the Centre
Northwest Activities Center
Detroit, Michigan
January 11, 2014

It seems these days that some of the most crucial aspects of jazz are the ones being downplayed by those jazz artists that have become the darlings of the jazz media. Peruse any number of top ten lists from 2013 and you'll find that many of these titles lack those basic elements such as swing, the blues, and mastery of the jazz language. It is as if the heritage of the music has been jettisoned for a new fusion of world music, hip hop, and extreme avant leanings that have strayed too far from the roots of this music we call jazz. As such, it's a godsend to find a jazz series that presents some of the key figures still steeped in the legacy, and willing to assert the idea that individuality and innovation within the tradition is possible and downright vital.

Aside from their annual festival every Labor Day weekend, Detroit has been largely quiet on the mainstream jazz front since the Jazz Café at Music Hall cut back drastically in its offerings. During the club's heydays between 2005 and 2010, nothing but top-notch New York quality jazz was on the menu. The man responsible for those salad days is also behind a brand new series of jazz shows at the Northwest Activities Center. Jazz at the Centre is the brainchild of Skip Norris, an experienced presenter and businessman whose extensive knowledge of the music is integral to the integrity of the acts he books.

With the debut of Ralph Peterson's Unity Organ Project this past November, Norris's new jazz series got underway. Housed in a neighborhood nonprofit community center, the venue boasts an acoustically fine 488-seat auditorium that has been home to plays and musicals over the past several years. With plans for one national act per month, the series got back on track after the holiday season with the appearance of Roy Hargrove and the latest incarnation of his quintet.

While it seemed that Hargrove was pacing himself at first, things started to lock in by the third or fourth tune and the end results were extremely satisfying. With longtime partner Justin Robinson at his side, Hargrove hit his stride on the James Williams tune "Alter Ego." This was followed by a direct and heartfelt reading of the ballad "You're My Everything." On flugelhorn, Hargrove manages a warm and burnished sound that suits his melodic sensibilities. In fact, his approach to that horn provides the yin and yang to his more incendiary style on trumpet.

Surprising more than a few in the crowd, Hargrove would also step up to the microphone for some tender vocalizing on "Never Let Me Go." This provided a seamless match with his flugel stylings while demonstrating how far Hargrove has come in terms of tempering his story telling with more fiery inclinations. Of course, with Robinson providing his Bird to Roy's Dizzy, quick-fire bebop lines are still part of Hargrove's fare and he continues to be a master of that game as well.

About midway through the show, Hargrove decided to hit upon several tunes from his much-loved album Earfood (Emarcy/Universal, 2008). The best known of the lot, "Strasbourg/St.Denis" has become an iconic number from his canon with a funky groove and toe-tapping melody. Pianist Sullivan Fortner delivered some crystalline lines with one foot in the groove gutter, marking him as a valuable member of the new Hargrove lineup. While bassist Ameen Salim presented a calm and almost restrained outward demeanor, his anchoring of the bottom end and solo statements were right on point. Drummer Quincy Phillips is less of a basher than Montez Coleman, which might also account for the tempering of Hargrove's overall muse. Nonetheless, his tasty interjections and rock-solid technique complemented the music nicely.

Near the two-hour mark, Hargrove let loose with "Bring It On Home To Me," delivering some sizzling collective improvisation with Robinson that might have signaled the show was about to wrap up. As the crowd came to its feet, Hargrove approached the microphone and graciously accepted the response while complimenting Detroit for its commitment to the music. He then went on to perform three more numbers as an extended encore, which was capped off by Hargrove and Robinson entering the audience while they played and strutting up and down the aisles.

With Hargrove and his quartet's generous offering, Jazz at the Centre is well on its way to becoming a contender for one of the strongest concert series in the northeastern part of the country. Upcoming gigs slated for subsequent months include performances by The Cookers, Steve Davis, Gregory Generet, and Joe Locke.

Photo credit:
C. Andrew Hovan

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