Friday, January 8, 2010, First Set
There’s something very exciting and special going on this week and next at Yoshi’s San Francisco; the large and enthusiastic crowd there for the first set and the equally large mob lining up down the street for the 10:00 show seemed to get it.
Trumpet and flugelhorn player Roy Hargrove, former young lion, Winton Marsalis protégé, funkmeister, etc., who turned forty last October, has come way, way into his own. He has developed an absolutely gorgeous tone that is somewhere between Miles Davis and Freddy Hubbard, and I think I enjoy him particularly on flugelhorn. The current quintet features a very percussive, McCoy Tyner-like twenty-two year old named Sullivan Fortner on piano, Justin Robertson, (who channels a really fast, melodic Ernie Watts on alto saxophone), Montez Coleman on drums and the spectacular bass player Amin Salim.
The quintet kicked off in high Blue Note mode, opening with Gary Bartz’s Libra, moving on to Stanley Cowell’s Equipoise and then playing a Hargrove original, Brown. They slowed it down many notches with Roger Penzabine’s Temptations song, “You’re My Everything,” which sounded like a standard and probably should be.
Then, out came Pharoah Sanders, who looks more like a Pharoah the older he gets. Sanders, who also is getting mellower with age, was featured here on John Coltrane’s mid-sixties piece Transition. He still plays the same grunts and groans and squeaks and squeals (my wife calls it “pig killing music”) that we’ve heard since the 60’s. But there is a steadiness and a familiarity to it, and it no longer sounds like something outrageous. The playing has lost much of its novelty and excitement, but it’s a lot like hearing an old friend. And on these terms, the old guy did just great.
Transition was followed by a beautiful new ballad by Hargrove called The Serenity of Solitude, demonstrating that what we have here is not just a terrific straight-ahead band leader in the late 1960’s tradition, but a wonderful composer. The ballad featured Pharoah once again in a beautiful, mellow solo, and I could hear tinges of what he brought the world as Farrel Sanders coming out of Oakland in the early 1960’s, playing with the late Ed Kelly before he started dressing funny and joined the avant garde.
The band tried to wrap it up for the set a la Lester Bowie with Sam Cooke’s r & b tune, “Bring It On Home.” The quite persistent audience brought them back for an encore. This was an absolutely gorgeous piece starting with a strummed, Jimmy Garrison style solo from Salim, featuring great ensemble playing by Hargrove and Robertson followed by a most joyful, shrieking sound from Mr. Sanders. Then the musicians left the stage one at a time, finally leaving nobody playing but the young pianist Fortner, who finished up carrying the melody. I waited in vain for the magic PA announcer’s words from the Yoshi’s of the old days “You’re all welcome to stay for the second set.” Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
After the set, Roy hung out on the stage just talking to anybody who came by. I asked him what the last, lovely tune had been. Turns out it didn’t have a name – he’d just written it. As I said, there’s something really going on here in the song-writing department. And plenty going on in the straight ahead jazz playing department.
Here's some Roy: