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Roy Hargrove Big Band Emergence Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

This may well find the trumpeter a fresh, mainstream audience.

Martin Longley 2009

Twenty years ago, the stripling Roy Hargrove's greatest ambition was to lead a big band. After two decades of fronting a wild stylistic variety of small and small-ish ensembles, his dream is now finally realised.

The band's home is The Jazz Gallery, a New York venue which is more akin to a bright 1970s-style loft space, rather than a dimly-lit club, and it's a major achievement to cram the full ranks of a big band onto such a small stage. Surprisingly, this recording opts for a big reverb, making the band sound as though they're blasting out in the lofty space of Carnegie Hall. In any case, for this session, they'd all schlepped cross-country to the Capitol Studios in Hollywood.

Unlike Hargrove's other more adventurous settings, the mission here is to revisit the classic swing years, inflating chests for a rolling barnstorm of a session. As might be expected, the leader takes most of the solos, using the big band to realise his grandiose arrangements. But there are several feature spots for saxophone, trombone, piano and guitar. The opening Velera acts as a stately fanfare, with Hargrove pure and assured, but it's swiftly chased by the brash and bluesy Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey, written by the band's baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall. Here, Hargrove is stinging to kill, but there's also a blustery trombone solo. Mambo for Roy is a dedication from the Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, while the album's literal centrepiece is Requiem, sprawling over 14 minutes as it negotiates a highly dramatic ascendance, only cooling down for an expressive alto saxophone solo.

It's a big shock when singer Roberta Gambarini makes her first appearance, five minutes into September in the Rain. She sticks around for three songs, transforming the band into a glitzy supper club sensation. Her languid Every Time We Say Goodbye draws out the phrasing, Gambarini's deep and husky voice cloaking each savoured line, and La Puerta is a mirrorballed Latin bounce, closing this varied trio of vocal numbers before the disc concludes with a cluster of instrumentals.

There are no jarring surprises herein, but Hargrove has sculpted a deliberately mainline repertoire that jumps from hearty swing to roseate sentimentality. It's a slick, well-balanced sound that may well find the trumpeter a fresh audience of more mainstream-inclined jazz fans.

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