Concert Review: Roy Hargrove

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Early on, the bandleader seemed to be having too much fun conducting to play himself, keeping his back to us, waving his arms animatedly while pointing to this or that accompanist.
But eventually, he entered the fray, distinguishing himself during such numbers as Conservation by Bobby Watson, and Public Eye, his own evocative tune. Equally-impressive improvisation came courtesy of Messrs. Williams, Blake, Marshall, and Clayton, while Mr. Griffin was downright delightful scatting right along with one of the group’s elaborate charts.

If you’re not claustrophobic about cramped quarters, one of the most intimate and pleasant places to catch some black classical music in New York City has got to be The Jazz Gallery. Located in a second-floor loft at 290 Hudson Street in lower Manhattan, this informal, undiscovered treasure can only accommodate an audience of about 70.

Still, the club somehow manages to attract first-rate talent, probably because of its not-for-profit status as a cultural center dedicated to combining the music with visual and literary arts.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to this extraordinary establishment last week when Roy Hargrove was in town for a five-day engagement with his 18-piece big band. The expanded ensemble included Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn, plus Justin Robinson, Bruce Williams, Ron Blake, Marcus Strickland and Jason Marshall on saxophones; Vincent Gardner, Joe Fiedler, Jason Jackson and Saunders Sermon on trombones; Ambrose Akinmusire, Darren Barrett and Avishai Cohen on trumpets; Gerald Clayton on piano; Dwayne Burno on bass; Saul Rubin on guitar; Greg Hutchinson on drums, and Miles Griffin on vocals.

So, the band practically matched the size of the crowd it wowed during the spirited set I attended. The show opened with The Trilogy, composed by Roy for his late father, and featured a solo on alto by virtuoso Justin Robinson. Early on, the bandleader seemed to be having too much fun conducting to play himself, keeping his back to us, waving his arms animatedly while pointing to this or that accompanist.

But eventually, he entered the fray, distinguishing himself during such numbers as Conservation by Bobby Watson, and Public Eye, his own evocative tune. Equally-impressive improvisation came courtesy of Messrs. Williams, Blake, Marshall, and Clayton, while Mr. Griffin was downright delightful scatting right along with one of the group’s elaborate charts.

The evening ended with a standing ovation as the entertainers, out of necessity, waded right into the midst of the tiny throng of appreciative fans. 

Though it might be tough to get a reservation at this charming jazz venue, it is definitely worth the wait.

Check out The Jazz Gallery’s upcoming events at http://www.jazzgallery.org/ or by calling (212) 242-1063.

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