REVIEW: Roy Hargrove Quintet at Union Chapel

Roy Hargrove. Photo credit: Paul Wood

Roy Hargrove Quintet
(Union Chapel, 31st July 2014. Review by Andy Boeckstaens.)

In the strange universe of the jazz fan – in which economics and logistics are seldom considered – it seems that there can never be too many saxophone players, pianists, bassists and drummers, yet the trumpet galaxy allows space for just a handful of boss brassmen at a time.

Roy Hargrove – who emerged on the New York scene and made his first album a quarter of a century ago – is established as one of the greatest trumpeters of our day. But his recording career as a leader has stalled for five years, and his star has been partially eclipsed by others of the same generation (Terence Blanchard, Jeremy Pelt) with superficially stylistic similarities.

At Union Chapel, style was prominent. Wearing red-rimmed shades, a red bow-tie and white trousers, Hargrove led an immaculately turned-out quintet through a set of energetic jazz with touches of funk. This sartorial and musical combination made it impossible not to think of Miles Davis around the time of Hargrove’s birth in 1969.

Ameen Saleem. Photo Credit: Paul Wood

The acoustics in the church were poor; any detail and nuance in the ensemble passages were all but inaudible. The leader appeared to realise this and, to ensure a less cluttered sound, showcased his sidemen at length. The only other member of the band present on Hargrove’s most recent quintet recording (2008’s Earfood), alto saxophonist Justin Robinson delivered a mesmerising frenzy of extremely fast notes that became a blur of technique and, unfortunately, echo.

Bursts of Hargrove’s brassy brilliance speared through the morass, notably during an early blues and for a beautiful flugelhorn-led ballad. He sang Never Let Me Go with considerable aplomb. Although he led his men through much exciting and enjoyable music, Hargrove looked indifferent and keen to rattle through the set as quickly as possible. When he wasn’t in the spotlight, he mugged and postured at the side of the stage.

New Orleanian pianist Sullivan Fortner was the quiet man of the group, and he contributed tidy accompaniment and several melodic solos. Ameen Saleem (whose cap was casually hung over the scroll of his double bass) provided a solid, swinging foundation, and drummer Quincy Phillips had a lovely feel for the music. Aside from a few unfocused moments (a particularly bizarre episode degenerated into a quotation of “Stars and Stripes Forever”), the empathy between the members of the rhythm section was palpable.

Virtually everything was met with cheers and tumultuous applause, and a rollicking Bring It on Home to Me resulted in a standing ovation. Hargrove spoke only to introduce his sidemen and say “Thank you, we love you!” prior to an encore that saw the musicians leave the stage one by one. Phillips’ closing beat ensured that hundreds were still clapping in time as he exited.

This was not a great musical experience for me, but Hargrove and his team worked the crowd well and – regardless of the sonic adversity - produced a dramatic show.


  1. Thanks for your review. I was tempted to go to this gig but thought the acoustics at the Union Chapel, for this type of group, might be all over the place. Not to dis Union Chapel, I saw Phronesis in May and it was superb for that trio.

  2. This was the first time I had been to the Union Chapel. Lovely venue but the acoustics were really poor. It really spoilt the gig for me. At £25 a ticket plus booking fees, making it almost £30, that was pretty steep for a jazz gig and I expected better. The bad was good but it really wasn't anything that you couldn't hear a crack British combo put together. Roy is one of the great trumpeters in post war jazz, no question but this was ultimately a disappointing night.