What’s a nice, clean-cut hard-bopping trumpeter, one of the best to hit the jazz scene in the ’90s, doing growing dreadlocks, wearing baggy pants and making a funk-soul CD?
Roy Hargrove’s latest release, “The RH Factor, Hard Groove,” follows a string of excellent hard-bop workouts that kept to the centerline of jazz tradition. Before this release, Hargrove turned out several stellar works: a classic set of Cuban jazz, a lovely collection of ballads with strings, and a high-flying tribute to Charlie Parker. “Hard Groove,” a pun on his name, is a definite departure, which swaps swing for funk, intricate chord changes for soulful vocals and rapid-fire technique for slow bass grooves.
The change is a little surprising. Hargrove hit the pinnacle of the jazz world with last year’s “Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall,” a superb tribute to Miles Davis, whose role Hargrove took, and John Coltrane, covered by Michael Brecker. The group was organized by Herbie Hancock, who could have chosen any trumpeter in jazz but wanted Hargrove.
The recording also harkened back to the famed “Live at Massey Hall,” a recording of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet that has often been considered the single best night of jazz ever recorded. Perhaps after trumpeting under the pressure of those past greats, Hargrove just needed a night off.
If so, he knew right where to go and with whom For this CD, he had favors coming from soul diva Erykah Badu, rappers Common and Q-Tip, and neo-soul singer D’Angelo, among others. In return for Hargrove previously trumpeting on their own CDs, they all contributed vocals. Hargrove also recruited saxophonist Karl Denson, hot off his own soul-jazz outings, and veteran funk-jazz master Cornell Dupree to top things off.
The core band of young, sometimes-jazz, sometimes-funk musicians, who will be joining him on this tour, know how to lock in tight, whether on slow soulful stirrers or upbeat funk numbers. Hargrove still lays down plenty of great trumpet lines, only he slathers them in R&B cool. Maybe he’ll return to the world of jazz for his next venture, but until then, he’s clearly having a hell of a good time. If you can’t dig this music, then, as the saying goes, you got a hole in your soul.
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