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O.C. JAZZ REVIEW : Reeves, Hargrove: A Musical Match

November 14, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — The pairing--storytelling singer Dianne Reeves on stagewith young trumpet sensation Roy Hargrove's quintet--seemed odd at first glance, the kind of billing that could rein in the enthusiasm of both as they'd avoid stepping on each other's toes.

But any such concerns were proven false Friday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center where Reeves, one of the finest in the business, stepped up to become just another member of Hargrove's front line, joining him and saxophonist Ron Blake in round-robin improvisational exchanges that saw their contrasting tones and personalities merging into a splendid musical whole.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the concert's close when Hargrove, Reeves and Blake stood shoulder to shoulder to do Cyrus Chestnut's funk anthem "Greens at the Chicken Shack." Passing the lead back and forth in an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better session, the three bounced ideas back and forth and stirred each other to higher and higher planes.

Both Reeves and Hargrove are experts in spontaneity, improvising with assured, fluid clarity: Each note followed perfectly behind its predecessor. And though both have technique to spare, the pace of their delivery was never rushed, and there was no display of skill for its own sake (a la Wynton Marsalis).

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The strong instrumental qualities of Reeves' voice were audible from her opening number with the quintet, Mongo Santamaria's "Afro-Blue." Contrasted with Blake's inviting soprano solo, Reeves proved every bit as agile and inventive.

"Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" found both Hargrove and Reeves working in clear, direct tones with only a minimum of vibrato, a style that recalled Miles Davis' ballad playing. At tune's end, Reeves took a turn without accompaniment, providing her own rhythmic support with breathy, percussive bursts that accented her wordless scatting.

The most prevalent influence felt Friday night well may have been the most appropriate: that of Carmen McRae, who had died earlier in the week. Reeves broke into one of her trademark improvisational digressions during "Yesterdays," singing about an uncle who had exposed her to the records of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and, especially, McRae--"a great interpreter of lyrics . . . she told a story every time"--words that apply equally to Reeves herself.

Parallels can be drawn as well between the deliveries of Hargrove and McRae, to whom he dedicated what has become his signature ballad piece, "Never Let Me Go." His fluegelhorn work during the number was especially warm and wise, the kind that touches both the heart and the intellect.

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Though he is only 25, Hargrove's playing seldom reflects the brashness or self-indulgence of youth. And he works in fine company. His foil, saxophonist Blake, is more from the considered Wayne Shorter school than the sheets-of-sound Coltrane camp. Standing with elbows erect (a posture that gave him a bird-like appearance), he worked in short bursts and single, weighty notes as he developed his solos--an attack especially successful during such beat-heavy material as "Greens at the Chicken Shack" and Hargrove's greasy spoon anthem "Soppin' the Biscuit."

Another standout soloist was pianist Peter Martin, who varied his melodic, chordally rich work with inquisitive lines and dissonant statements. Martin showed an impressive left hand when accompanying Reeves in "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," and his ballad playing was beautifully developed.

Bassist Rodney Whitaker worked around the beat, pushing hard during funk numbers, laying back on ballads. His improvisation during "Never Let Me Go" explored the melody in a way that recalled Ron Carter's detailed work. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson showed on- and off-beat skills and was especially impressive with his mallets.

Hargrove's quintet is a tight, responsive unit--much more than window dressing for its celebrity leader. And though the core of the band has been together some three years, it is not inflexible: It stirred Reeves into the mix as easily as it did Joe Henderson, Johnny Griffin, Stanley Turrentine and Branford Marsalis, guest saxophonists on the group's latest album.

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