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There's no one standard model of jazz, but there are standards. There's a standard repertoire, for sure; also, standard conventions of instrumentation, group interaction, overall "sound." Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, when he commits to playing straight-ahead jazz, leads a quintet that is very comfortable with those standards. If you're new to jazz, it would seem distantly familiar, like how you might imagine jazz to be. If you aren't new to jazz, you might just find it proves how satisfying those standards remain, and how much room for self-expression is in them.
It's what's made Roy Hargrove a star in the jazz world, and what allows the Roy Hargrove quintet to play two straight weeks at the world-famous Village Vanguard in New York City. WBGO and NPR Music will present a live on-air broadcast and live video webcast of the band's early performance on Wednesday, May 25.
Hargrove's current band is an argument for timelessness; for the idea that the elegance and sophistication of classic post-bebop jazz remains appealing today. On his latest quintet album, 2008's Earfood, it's argued well because Hargrove — aside from being a commanding trumpet player, fast or slow — has focused on writing and picking catchy songs. Not just frameworks for improvisations, but songs: tuneful, simple, grooving songs.
At the Vanguard, he started the set off with a number of tunes by mentors — Cedar Walton, Walter Booker, John Hicks, so forth — and standards. (He even took a vocal turn on "Never Let Me Go.") The second half brought more original compositions, including the funky signature "Strasbourg/St. Denis." Hargrove stood aside one peer, alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, and in front of a younger rhythm section — his working band.
Roy Hargrove is 41 now, decades after his talent was "discovered" at a Dallas, Texas, arts magnet high school by Wynton Marsalis. He became something of a teenage prodigy, touring Europe and Japan before age 17 and playing with jazz legends before he could legally drink. Hargrove's early studio efforts focused on his jazz playing — since then, he's also explored Afro-Cuban music with an ensemble called Crisol and started a funk and soul fusion band called the RH Factor. (He's also been tapped to play behind Erykah Badu, Common and D'Angelo as a sideman.)
But straight-ahead jazz is a core value for Hargrove, the swinging-and-having-fun kind. That sense of tradition, honored gracefully, was on display when his quintet performed at the Village Vanguard — a place he has regularly appeared since the early '90s.