June 2003 Roy Hargrove's "RH Factor" at the Apollo Theater

This exciting event featured Hargrove's band and Maceo Parker's band as part of the JVC Jazz Festival. The Apollo Theater is the most famous landmark in Harlem, and its velvet curtains and box seats remind me of Carnegie Hall. On the wall are photos from all the Jazz and R&B greats who have played and sung there over the years.

The night I went, the house was full, with a mixed audience all wanting to hear the Jazz and Funk grooves of the two bands. Maceo Parker, who played alto sax with such artists as James Brown, George Clinton and Prince (who was in the audience), was the headliner for the evening. I wanted to write about the new group that trumpeter Roy Hargrove has put together.

It was a far cry from the big band I saw in the mid-nineties that Hargrove had during a previous JVC Jazz Festival. And even further away from the number of times I've heard him in a small group. His new CD, Hard Groove on Verve Records, exemplifies the Jazz/Funk/R&B sound that I heard the other night. The program's headline on Hargrove reads: "We Got the Funk - The Year Jazz Found its Groove."

Roy HargroveThe instrumentation of Hargrove's band was similar in live performance to the recorded version. On saxophones, he had Keith Anderson (alto & tenor) and Jacques Schwarz-Bart (soprano & tenor). On keyboards, there were Bobby Sparks (organ, synth, Rhodes) and Renee Neufville (Korg synth & vocals). The rhythm section contained Chalmers Alford, guitar; Reggie Washington, bass; Jason Thomas, drummer, and Willie Jones, drummer. Yes, there were two drummers!

They opened the set with a Miles Davis number, "In a Silent Way." This tune has a heavy sound from the electric bass keeping the groove. And not only the sound took me back to the 70's: the visual images were also reminiscent of those days. Multi-colored lights, lots of instruments, Roy dressed all in white like a remake of Miles.

But after this first number, it was all original Roy Hargrove music. Most of the tunes had a funky groove, for sure. But whenever Roy soloed, his Jazz background came into play, and always took the tunes in a different direction. He gave the saxophones solos on alternating tunes. Both sax players had really great chops; they really wailed on the first few numbers.

Then it was time to bring on the singers - Roy had a few special guests for the evening, and they each sang a number from the new CD. The first one was Stephanie McKay, who sang "Forget Regret." Jacques and Reggie got into a cool rhythm together on tenor and bass. After Stephanie finished singing the first head, she danced next to Jacques while he soloed.

Renee Neufville, the keyboardist and former Motown recording artist, was the next person to take center stage. She sang the tune "Juicy," which has fruit images such as Georgia peaches and tangerines. Reggie backed her up on vocals. Then Roy brought up yet another female vocalist, Shelby Johnson. By this time the audience was warmed up and ready to participate. She got the audience to clap their hands on the upbeat "How I Know," with Roy playing a sensitive trumpet accompaniment.

Bobby Sparks, the keyboard player, opened up the next tune on the organ. Earlier, he had shown his versatility by alternating between playing 1) a Fender Rhodes; 2) a synthesizer where he used pitch bends and manipulated the sounds, and 3) a Hammond B-3 organ. On this ballad, he changed the mood of the set by layering interesting chords on top of each other. Keith switched to tenor here, and Reggie switched to acoustic bass.

The rest of the set was rounded out by more vocals. Anthony Hamilton came onstage to sing "Kwah/Home," and Roy and Reggie sang "I'll Stay," accompanied by Alford on blues guitar. The variety of styles played by the musicians during this one set was pretty amazing.

International Women in Jazz at St. Peter's Church

The "Jazz Church" of St. Peters has so many wonderful concerts that it's hard to keep up with them all. Founded in 1965, by the late Reverend John Gensel, this Jazz Ministry is located in midtown Manhattan at 53rd and Lexington, rebuilt as part of the Citicorp Center. Gensel gained a reputation in the late 1950's and early19 60's by counseling Jazz musicians in clubs late at night. Drummer Max Roach called him "our spiritual guru, our psychiatrist and the greatest booster of American music." He was a great friend of Ellington and officiated at the Duke's funeral. For over thirty years, Jazz Vespers have been held on Sundays at 5 pm., featuring name and aspiring Jazz artists.

On this particular evening, St. Peter's had a special event to present some of the original and standard music of IWJ's members. Featured artists included: Arlee Leonard, Judi Silvano, Ghanniyya Green, Andrea Wolper and Lenora Helm, vocals; Maxine Carol Martin, clarinet; Carol Sudhalter, sax and flute; Deborah Weisz, trombone; Linda Presgrave and Ursel Schlicht, piano; Carline Ray and Kim Clarke, bass; and Bernice Brooks, drums.

I especially liked "The Call," composed by trombonist Deborah Weisz. The piece had an African flavor, with two singers (Lenora Helm and Andrea Wolper) an octave apart using syllables that made the listener wonder what they were saying. Eventually they went into harmony, creating a sound that reverberated in the church. The music went outside of the normal boundaries of tonal harmony, and would take further listening for me to fully understand it. Ursel Schlicht and Bernice Brooks rounded out the rhythm section on "The Call."

Arlee Leonard sang an emotional rendition of the standard "My One and Only Love." A seasoned performer, she is attractive and tuneful; her voice is pleasing to the ear. Linda Presgrave provided sensitive harmonies on the piano. (By the way, the piano in St. Peter's used to belong to Billy Strayhorn).

Another refreshing singer on the New York scene is Judi Silvano. She has a great range, and can imitate various instruments. She did this well on pianist Linda Presgrave's "The Journey." The main section of this composition had a Latin feel, although there was a middle section with swing. Judi scatted on the form beautifully, making the transitions easily and showing her confidence in her knowledge of the chord changes.

Nobuko Cobi Narita is the President Emerita of IWJ, and the outgoing President is Sonya L. Martin. One of the women gave Martin a plaque and a speech. Following this was a group song, done as a tribute to her. It was nice to see the camaraderie amongst a group of women in Jazz.

by Lucy Galliher

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