From my fortuitous midweek seat in Jazz Alley’s front row, the impression I gained from trumpeter Keyon Harrold’s quintet was that of a band stretching its legs. This amounted to a young group by Jazz Alley standards, not a collection of childhood virtuosos but one of hardworking road warriors plying their trade in a cross-country marathon, cooking up new ideas at each stop. As drummer Charles Haynes told me after the performance, he appreciated Seattle for the opportunity of “Getting a bit of sleep between shows.”
The band’s set spanned five songs and nearly two hours on Wednesday night. With each tune lasting 15 to 20 minutes, these weren’t hard-swung bebop numbers. Compositions ran through nearly constant rhythmic variation, flowing from rock to hip-hop to classical piano and back again. Helming it all was bandleader Harrold, whose bright melodic motifs glued these pieces together.
A product of Ferguson, Missouri, Harrold has done studio work with Beyoncé, Diana Ross, Jay-Z, Mac Miller, and dozens of others. He also provided Don Cheadle’s trumpet lines in 2015’s Miles Ahead, a misguided but nevertheless well-acted film.
In this freshly-constructed touring quintet, Harrold has assembled an innovative group of peers with similarly immaculate resumes. Drummer Charles Haynes supplied beats for famed lawsuit targets Kanye West and Ed Sheeran. Pianist Shedrick Mitchell has done work with Stevie Wonder. Guitarist Andrew Renfroe toured Seattle in March with saxophonist Braxton Cook, and bassist Dan Winshall, youngest of the crew, performed with Wynton Marsalis as a teenager.
In all, this is the precisely the type of group Northwest jazz fans should clamor for: young, hungry, and immensely talented. The quintet’s single horn instrumentation makes for a rhythm-focused, vamp-heavy sound favored by many a new jazz ensemble – Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott, and Robert Glasper come to mind. Glasper, Harrold’s classmate at the New School, accounted for the trumpeter’s big break after introducing him to Common.
This style of jazz doesn’t adhere to some of the “rules” I laid out in my genre primer last winter. What it does elicit is a more discernible audience/band feedback loop during gigs. Emphasizing rock and hip hop, groups like Harrold’s are well positioned for a crossover audience (Lord willing).
The first three songs of Wednesday’s performance – “Abandon Heart,” “Well Walk Now,” “Foreverland” – were new compositions slated for Harrold’s next album. The last two were numbers from his 2017 record The Mugician, a genre-blending collection featuring guest spots from the likes of Gary Clark Jr. and Big K.R.I.T.
Despite his flirtation with hip hop and rock, Harrold winked at jazz buffs as he ran through a “Round Midnight” head early on, and “My Favorite Things” shortly before the closer. At the show’s conclusion, 2017’s “Stay This Way” morphed into a cover of Harry Styles’ “As It Was.”
(“Hey, yeah, I like Harry Styles,” Harrold said confidently.)
When Ornette Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959, the genre marched off into overblown atonality. Were a similarly titled record to drop today, it’d sound an awful lot like Keyon Harrold.