If you like flashy solos and the 'head-solo-solo-solo-head' school of group jazz, you'll like the Roy Hargrove Quintet. If you're looking for something else in your jazz, you might need to look elsewhere. This is not a criticism of Hargrove's quintet, which is currently in the midst of a five-day run at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle. Rather, it is an honest appraisal of the music towards which the group seems to gravitate: straightforward, no-nonsense modern jazz. No new trails are being blazed here, but after seeing the group on Thursday night, I'm not sure that stylistic innovation is their collective intention. Which is okay. The musicians in Hargrove's quintet'alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, pianist Eric Lewis, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer Willie Jones III'all obviously love the music they play, and they play it with integrity and conviction. I suspect that they've played it with a bit more conviction in the past than they happened to on this particular night, but that didn't take away from what was mostly an enjoyable show. Hargrove kicked off the set with an unaccompanied trumpet solo which led into a reading of 'The Gift,' a peaceful and rather conventional mid-tempo samba with a rather unconventional 7/4 vamp tacked onto the last 'A' section. Lewis wowed the crowd with an aggressive, heavily percussive piano solo, and Jones beat his kit to a pulp during his turn at bat, introducing dramatic rhythmic variations over the aforementioned 7/4 vamp (which Lewis and Burno repeated for the duration of the solo). Next up was 'Omicron,' a Donald Byrd tune from Paul Chambers' 1956 album Whims of Chambers. This was pure bebop, and provided an interesting contrast to the previous tune. The solos'by Hargrove, Burno, and Robinson, respectively'weren't particularly remarkable, but were well-executed and demonstrated each musician's mastery of the bebop vocabulary. Props to Hargrove, too, for combing the back-catalogue and unearthing this Tune that Time Forgot. The most interesting song selection of the night, however, was John Coltrane's 'Transition,' a bold choice considering that: 1) most jazz musicians tend not to touch Trane's later material; and 2) this group was fronted by a trumpeter and alto saxophonist. I wasn't much impressed by the reading of the melody, which sounded rather listless, but the solos were ferocious. Lewis in particular got the crowd going with a volcanic, highly syncopated solo in which he used the lower registers of the keyboard to good effect.
Vocalist Roberta Gambarini joined the group onstage for what turned out to be a 'pretty''and pretty dull'reading of 'The Nearness of You.' The group finished the set with an untitled number that had a funky groove and an interesting stop-time stanza but was otherwise pretty conventional late '90s 'hip-hop jazz.'
As I mentioned earlier, I got the impression that this quintet has had more inspired moments in the past. No doubt they will have more in the future. On this night, they played interesting songs and took some great solos, but there was an air of been-there-done-that to the whole affair. This is really the most accurate criticism I can think of to level at a show like this. I enjoyed listening to the music, but apart from a few solos (usually by Lewis), I felt curiously disaffected. This could reflect my own recent listening habits, which have found me moving slowly away from straight-ahead jazz to other, more eclectic realms. Not that Hargrove has any kind of responsibility to explore similar territory, though. He sounds comfortable where he is'and with the group he currently has with him, he could make considerable noise in the coming years. Let's hope that this version of the Roy Hargrove Quintet releases a studio album soon.