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Roy Hargrove Quintet: Live at the Village Vanguard

David Adler By

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To commemorate its 65th year in existence, the Village Vanguard chose a major draw ' a young trumpeter who, along with Wynton Marsalis, has done much to rekindle popular interest in jazz over the last ten years. Roy Hargrove and his band are the "men at work" who graced the cover of the May 1999 Downbeat. Along with Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn is Sherman Irby on alto, Larry Willis on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, and Willie Jones III on drums. It's a regular gigging unit, and it shows. The band hits the stage and there's no fidgeting, no last-minute adjustments, no banter. Hargrove and Irby resolutely approach their respective mics and they're off, opening with Hargrove's "Depth" at a cool, medium bounce. The trumpeter dedicates this one to "oceans and mountains, intelligent people, all things deep."
And the band plays on, offering another Hargrove original ' a slower groove aptly titled "Style." Irby grabs attention by bringing the volume way, way down as he begins his solo. Willis reaches soulful heights during his several choruses, and then Cannon takes his only solo of the set. Hargrove plays the out melody on flugelhorn, setting the stage for a satisfying reading of "You Go To My Head." The set closer is a Larry Willis original, "Isabel the Liberator," a minor-key tune with a fast latin feel. Irby enlists Cannon and Jones for a trippy interlude that sounds like a whole new tune. But then the rhythm section reintroduces the latin theme, setting Willis up for his best solo of the set. Jones gets in the last word with a remarkable drum solo, leaving the crowd exhilarated well after the house lights come back on.
There's a physical electricity to Hargrove's performance that is not terribly common in jazz. The dreadlocked trumpeter is not above breaking into a dance, or even hopping up and down, while his colleagues solo. If something excites him, he'll yell out his approval. But his youthful enthusiasm is tempered by a use of space that reflects a growing wisdom. That said, Hargrove's solos at times get bogged down in repetitive high-note mannerisms, and his tunes tend to lean on hard bop devices we've heard before. Crisol, Hargrove's latin ensemble, was a highly original move, a rewarding departure from his formulaic tendencies. It remains to be seen whether his upcoming Verve release, a ballad album with strings, is a retreat into the comfort zone or a searching session that uncovers another facet of his still-emerging potential.

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