Review: Roy Hargrove Quintet

Roy Hargrove. Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Roy Hargrove
(Union Chapel, 28th June 2011. Second night of Bluesfest London. Review by Frederick Bernas)

Another of the jazzier offerings at London’s inaugural BluesFest saw trumpeter Roy Hargrove play Union Chapel, an acoustic setting perfectly suited to the sounds of his current touring ensemble.

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Hargrove burst onto the scene in the late ‘80s after being first spotted at high school by Wynton Marsalis. A 1998 Grammy for the Latin-flavoured Habana album established his name as a major brand in the jazz world. Since then, Hargrove has dabbled with edgier funk and soul aesthetics in his RH Factor project, as well as assembling a distinguished big band and working extensively in smaller groups.

With this acoustic quintet, it seems he has found a fertile middle ground on which to flex his refined compositional acumen, brimming in diverse influences. As the musicians on stage raced through their set with no break for repartee, a strong element of patience was also present in their unfolding dialogue.

Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson regularly took a back seat, disappearing behind the bandstand while the improvisational baton was passed around. When the two horns were involved, melodic hooks rang short and sharp – it was their solos which told the real stories. Robinson is a subtle, eloquent player who refrains from showy pyrotechnics and, while Hargrove’s dazzling chops were in full flow for the livelier numbers, his warm tone on the flugel was the perfect voice to croon on a smooth ballad.

The rhythm section was perhaps even more impressive, as Ameen Saleem (bass) and Montez Coleman (drums) locked down a selection of tricky time signatures. And on straight 4/4 grooves or standard swing, their backing – aided by pianist Sullivan Fortner – was often sparse but effective, augmented by a great deal of textural variety during solos.

As a seasoned player who has been around for some time now, it looks like Hargrove is really settling into himself. At the encore, as the trumpeter marched between pews exchanging fiery licks with Robinson’s alto in a sermonising lap of honour, it was thrilling to conclude that this highly versatile bandleader is at the peak of his creative powers.

Roy Hargrove Quintet. Photo credit: Roger Thomas


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