NPR logo Roy Hargrove's Funky Mullet

Roy Hargrove's Funky Mullet

One thing you learn only after you've listened to a fair amount of mainstream jazz is how much it's changed over time. The changes are relatively subtle when they happen, and they happen at a relatively glacial pace, as the zeitgeist morphs around it. But every so often you look up and think: "This kinda looks and feels like the jazz of 50 years ago. But it could only have been made now."

That's one of my reactions to this 2008 Roy Hargrove quintet performance of Hargrove's "Strasbourg/St. Denis":

It's kind of a "mullet" approach, as in, "business up front, party in the back." Those two horns up front — that Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie-like combination of alto sax and trumpet (Justin Robinson even quotes Bird in his sax solo) — have a very familiar ring, especially when combined with piano, bass and drums. It's a classic instrumentation, and when this band plays a standard ballad or more traditional swinger, you sense its respect for the tradition.

But listen to what the rhythm section, the back line if you will, is doing here. Gerald Clayton is dampening the piano strings, giving that curt, cut-off timbre, or he's comping with the full range of the instrument. Danton Boller is yanking the bass, pulling and silencing so deliberately. And Montez Coleman is playing that boom-boom-chick hip-hop beat, with the rim shots and the closed hi-hat. This band knows how to play jazz. It also knows what century we're in.

Anyway, the current Roy Hargrove Quintet plays the Live at the Village Vanguard concert series this Wednesday, May 25 at 9 p.m. ET. That means live video, chat room, all that. Check in Wednesday night for the stream, and on Thursday for photos and a recording.

If this video has piqued your interest about this group, there's a version of "Strasbourg/St. Denis" on the trumpeter's Earfood, from 2008. It's a fun record, and a good illustration of how much is left to be said in the frame of straight-ahead jazz.

P.S. Do a YouTube search for "Strasbourg St. Denis" and check out how many student covers there are of this tune. So many! Must have struck a chord with someone ...