Funky trumpeter juices 50th-anniversary all-star jazz summit at massey hall
The Quintet – Jazz At Massey Hall 50th anniversaRY featuring roy hargrove, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Garrett, Roy Haynes and Dave Holland with the Massey Hall All-Stars at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), tonight (Thursday, May 15). $69.50-$290. 416-872-4255. Rating: NNNNN
Charlie parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell – how could you follow that act?Fifty years to the day after those bebop icons appeared on the same stage at Massey Hall, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Dave Holland, veteran drummer Roy Haynes, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and kick-ass trumpet threat Roy Hargrove are giving it their best shot.
Some pre-show anxiety about living up to the historic concert is entirely understandable. Designated leader Hancock has sequestered himself away to prepare for the show, declining advance interviews and not even discussing the evening’s program with his bandmates.
Yet the fact that Hargrove hasn’t got the slightest idea what he’s going to be playing at Massey Hall doesn’t seem to be at all unnerving for the talented improviser, who’s performed as part of Hancock’s Directions In Music (Verve) project and Haynes’s Parker tribute Birds Of A Feather (Dreyfus). As always, he’s down for whatever.
“When I heard who was going to be at Massey Hall for this show,” Hargrove recalls from a tour stop in Madrid, “I said, ‘Put me down – please!’ With these musicians involved, I’d be happy just standing off to the side of the stage and watching.”
The 1953 Mount Rushmore-like gathering of jazz giants was sufficient to ensure the event’s place in music history. But the performance – documented on The Quintet: Jazz At Massey Hall (Debut, see review this page) – particularly Parker’s dynamic display, blowing blue fire on a plastic alto saxophone picked up en route to the gig, makes it truly legendary.
“I used to listen to that Jazz At Massey Hall recording religiously. Five of the main messengers of the bebop era documented live – how incredible is that?
“But I don’t think trying to live up to such an historic gathering is the point of the show we’re doing. Considering the diversity of the players involved – everyone’s coming from a different angle – it’s definitely going to be a very different musical experience.”
Similarly, new-school saxophonist Garrett – inspired more by the spiritually searching John Coltrane than by Parker – has great respect for the accomplishments of his bop forebears but feels the upcoming concert won’t be a nostalgia trip.
“Even if we revisit some of the songs from Jazz At Massey Hall, I know that with Herbie involved everything’s gonna be flipped,” chuckles Garrett after a gig in Los Angeles.
“I remember hearing him do Coltrane’s Impressions one night, and even though the changes are minor, he was playing some other superimposed stuff. It was like, ‘What is that?'”
Hancock’s not the only one who’s looking forward. The intriguing bit about this celebration of the bebop benchmark is that none of the participants could be considered bop traditionalists.
Even the 77-year-old Haynes, who backed Powell in 1949 and went on to play in Parker’s band through 53, left bop behind when he got the call to join the the Coltrane Quartet in 63.
From the time he split in 65, Haynes’s vision and versatility have made him the drummer of choice for fusionists from Chick Corea to Pat Metheny.
However, none of the members have been more daring in their stylistic jumps than Hargrove. Starting out as a Wynton Marsalis “new suit” acolyte while still a teenager, the Waco-born Hargrove was trading licks with Freddie Hubbard at Fort Worth’s Caravan of Dreams and touring Europe with saxophonist Frank Morgan before leaving high school.
Throughout his productive career, Hargrove has proven adventurous in his project choices, following a standards set by immersing himself deeply in Afro-Cuban music for 97’s soulful Habana (Verve) with his Crisol band, only to return with Moment To Moment (Verve), a lushly orchestrated set of romantic ballads.
So while it may be a bit surprising that Hargrove’s forthcoming disc, Hard Groove (which Verve has slated for release May 27), is a funky R&B workout with his new band, RH Factor, it’s not really unexpected.
Nor is the fact that the album’s guests include D’Angelo, Erykah Badu (a high school pal!), Common and Q-Tip, since Hargrove has been recording and running with each of them lately.
“Nobody I know was surprised to hear that I’ve done a funk record,” laughs Hargrove, “only that it’s taken me this long to get it out.
“I’ve had it planned for a while now, but the people at the label wanted to put me with a name producer and have him tell me what to do. I wasn’t into that, so it took me some time to convince them to let me get a band together and produce the album myself. Once they heard what we were doing, they suddenly got really excited.”
With D’Angelo crooning the Funkadelic love song I’ll Stay (from Let’s Take It To The Stage) and Erykah Badu dueting with Q-Tip on Poem, there’s no doubt that Hard Groove has definite mainstream R&B crossover potential.
But don’t get the idea that this is another lame Jazzamatazz jazz-meets-hiphop experiment. Most of the album is rooted in the 70s funk sound of the Headhunters, with the emphasis on the groove – just as the title suggests – so that the vocal component seems almost like an afterthought.
“When jazz musicians get involved in these kind of projects, they always try to put too much jazz in it. If you’re a jazz player making a funk record, you need to deal with funk rather than try making it into jazz.
“Some musicians can approach it like a scientific experiment, but for me music is supposed to fire the emotions, give people something they can feel. To do that, you need to get deep into the music – love it.
“When I play music, I love it. That’s the whole reason I do it.”
the quintet Jazz At Massey Hall (Debut) Rating: NNNNNYou’d think that even in 1953 the Massey Hall gathering of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach and Bud Powell – already regarded as jazz stars – would’ve had record labels and radio stations fighting for recording rights to the one-off summit. Nope. Neither the CBC nor the National Film Board was interested in documenting it for posterity. Fortunately for us all, the ever-entrepreneurial Mingus realized the show’s historic value and taped it himself, releasing it on his own Debut label.
Yet for all Mingus’s musical talent, he was no engineer. The recording suffered from poor microphone placement, which forced him to overdub his inaudible bass parts afterward. It’s still a stellar performance and worthy of its legendary status, if only for the fiery exchanges between Parker and Gillespie, and for Bird blowing at jaw-dropping velocity without sacrificing his beautiful sense of melodicism.
Recent advances in remastering technology have brought surprising new clarity to this limited-edition 20-bit reissue, wisely punching up Parker’s magnificent plastic alto sax solos and bringing everything into sharper sonic focus. You need it.