Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 September, 2010, 12:00am

I missed the Roy Hargrove Quintet performance in Hong Kong in 2007, and I was sorry at the time. I am doubly so now having seen a DVD of the band, filmed at the New Morning club in Paris, also in 2007.

Several of the tunes featured on Live at the New Morning came out on Hargrove's 2008 album Earfood, performed by the same musicians - Cedar Walton's I'm Not So Sure, Lou Marini Jnr's Starmaker, Kurt Weill's Speak Low, and his own originals Strasbourg/Saint Denis, and Style.

Also present are six more Hargrove compositions and one tune apiece from Miles Davis, Leo Quintero, Bernice Petkere, Johnny Mandel, and the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

It is a well-chosen mixed bag of highly accessible jazz. At the time of Earfood's release Hargrove said the thinking behind his approach to the music was 'to have a recording that is steeped in tradition and sophistication while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity'.

You can hear and see the band working towards that objective. All are instrumentalists of a high calibre, and they push each other hard, but they play within hard bop conventions. Nothing challenges the ear.

Davis and Lee Morgan are the trumpeters Hargrove is most often compared with, and there are echoes of both in this music. Many of the tunes have the kind of groove associated with the Blue Note label's classic period.

Although Hargrove leads, he does not dominate, and by the time the DVD was shot the members of the quintet were clearly familiar with each other's moves.

Gerald Clayton is a fine pianist, playing here very much in an early 1960s Herbie Hancock style, and Hargrove and Justin Robinson on alto sax form a solid horn section, as well as spinning out some fine solos. Hargrove doubles on flugelhorn and Robinson on flute.

This is the kind of jazz his mentor, Wynton Marsalis, would approve of, rather than the groove- and funk-inflected jazz he performs with his RH Factor band. It is also music with an intimacy necessarily missing from the big-band arrangements captured on 2009's Emergence, which featured a 19-piece group.

'I like playing music that's considered classic jazz, especially now when it's hard to find musicians who deal with the jazz tradition,' says Hargrove.

'So many people are playing the 'new and improved' jazz, which alienates a lot of the audience. I'm not afraid to play the blues and soul, and I like to try to be innovative. But I prefer the standards sound. If you get too far from that, what's the point?'

Take Three

Three albums reflecting different facets of a versatile instrumentalist:

With The Tenors of Our Time (1994, Verve): the album with which Hargrove staked his claim to a place in jazz's first division, taking on titans of the tenor saxophone Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, and Stanley Turrentine.

Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall (2001, Verve): a tribute to Davis and John Coltrane which finds Hargrove billed on equal terms with Hancock and the late Michael Brecker, and playing well up to their standards, as well as contributing as a composer.

Emergence (2009, Emarcy): Hargrove leads a well-rehearsed 19-piece band through 11 thoughtfully scored arrangements reflecting the influence of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, and Dizzy Gillespie's Afro-Cuban big band music. This format seems to be his principal focus, but watch this space.