To any serious jazz fans, Roy Hargrove is old news. I wish I could say I’d been following him since he won his first Grammy in 1997, but that would be a lie—I couldn’t even spell “Grammy” at that point. He won another Grammy in 2002, but I was in a deep Smash Mouth phase at that age. Ahh, youth.
Thankfully, I discovered him in the past few years thanks to a dear friend in France, so all is not lost.
“Strasbourg/Saint-Denis,” named after a Paris métro stop that you shouldn’t visit after midnight if you don’t have to, puts Hargrove’s funky sensibility out front, with a slick, accessible piece of music.
The bass intro grooves from the beginning, and the instrument’s acoustic quality is captured beautifully, with plenty of space. The tricky drum entrance paves the way for the sax and trumpet to enter for the laid-back head, played in unison. Again, I think this recording really allows a novice listener to get a tonal understanding of the main instruments in jazz. When they switch to the upper register, the trumpet’s warm blat meshes nicely with the sax’s thinner, more melodic tone. There’s also some tricky muting going on in the piano solo, a neat tricky that amplifies the staccato nature of a lot of Gerald Clayton’s phrasing.
And while none of the individual performances are particularly surprising, the song has great feel and groove and hangs together as a comprehensive whole. It’s a textbook piece of quintet playing from fine musicians that is loaded with aural appeal—they didn’t call the album Earfood for nothin’—and worth a listen if you’re at all jazz-curious.