Both Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove have new albums out on Verve that depart from the usual mainstream combo formats: Hargrove wades gingerly into hip-hop and R&B on “Hard Groove,” Brecker wields a sophisticated big band with string quartet on “Wide Angles.” Interestingly, neither is touring with their new vehicles this time around (though Hargrove’s RH Factor appeared Aug. 20 at the Hollywood Bowl), falling back upon tradition-encrusted hard bop and post-bop quintets. In other words, the concert at Royce Hall on Sunday night amounted to a pit stop for both leaders — extremely well played, at times incandescently, but a pit stop nevertheless.
Hargrove’s opening set started 35 minutes late (reportedly he thought the gig began at 8 p.m. instead of the announced 7 p.m. start time) and on a very low key, with just the trumpeter and pianist Ronnie Mathews intoning “Ruby, My Dear” softly and straight.
Once the rest of the band filed in, Hargrove matched horns with his superb alto sax player Justin Robinson on “Blues for Da Tazz”; provided an open, thoughtful account of “The Very Thought of You” on flugelhorn; and gave another Monk chestnut, “Rhythm-A-Ning,” a fast ride.
But Hargrove saved his best, most ingratiatingly inventive work for the mid-’60s-style boogaloo encore “Una Mas” as Robinson immersed himself in Sonny Stitt’s bop and soul styles.
Brecker, by contrast, took command of the stage immediately, coming out with a roaring, high-intensity display of fiery tenor sax and boiling group interplay on “Slings and Arrows.” Pianist Joey Calderazzo, a mainstay of Brecker combos in the ’80s and ’90s, returned to the fold, spinning out floods of notes, even in his more lyrical musings.
Almost as a foil, guitarist Adam Rogers took a mellower approach, most effectively when creating reverse dynamic effects with the volume pedal on “Half Past Late.”
A highlight of Brecker’s appearances lately has been his fearless solo showcases. This time, the vehicle was a remarkable conversation with himself on “Monk’s Mood,” in which not a note was wasted.