At 36, trumpeter Roy Hargrove has firmly established himself as among the premier players in jazz and beyond. Ever-stretching into more challenging and colorful ways to flex his musical chops, Hargrove has left indelible imprints in a vast array of artful settings. During his tenure on the Verve label alone, he has recorded an album with a hand-picked collection of the world’s greatest tenor saxophonists (With the Tenors of Our Time), an album of standards with strings (Moment to Moment) and, in 2003, introduced his own hip hop/jazz collective The RH Factor with the groundbreaking CD Hard Groove (swiftly followed by the limited edition EP, Strength). Hargrove has also won Grammy® Awards for two vastly different projects. In 1997,
On XXXXXX, Hargrove will bring two of his musical worlds closer together with the simultaneous release of Distractions and Nothing Serious – all new recordings by both of Roy Hargrove’s touring ensembles. Distractions features the contemporary funk/jazz sounds of The RH Factor. Nothing Serious features straight ahead jazz by The Roy Hargrove Quintet with special guest Slide Hampton on trombone. Verve A&R executive Dahlia Ambach-Caplin explains, “When it came time to work on a new album, it became clear that
“I've been doing more touring with RH Factor than my quintet lately,” Hargrove muses. “People are turning a deaf ear to jazz. Some of that is the fault of jazz musicians trying too hard to appear to be cerebral. They aren’t having fun playing the music and that's why people aren't coming to hear it live anymore.
What do we have to offer in the world of jazz today? It's about being innovative, which is cool. But innovation right now will come in music that's swinging and feels good. It's meaningless if it doesn't make you feel something.”
The bulk of the new 12-track RH Factor disc is inspired vocal ruminations. Most telling is the knee-deep funk of “A Place,” the hook of which poses the musical question, “If I take you to a place I love / If I change my style / Would you like it?” For the man who came to prominence in the jazz realm, these lyrics reflect the on-going challenge he has bridging the gap between the two styles of music that dominate his direction. “My goal with RH Factor has always been to try to erase the lines between the mainstream and the underground - straight ahead and hip hop/R&B. You have musicians who know all the theory and harmony. Then you have the musicians who have a direct line to the masses and what they like to hear. If you can combine the two, it can be something innovative as well.”
Other vocal numbers on the RH Factor disc include the feel-good track “Crazy Race” (in which some of Hargrove’s trumpet lines recall a melody from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Brazilian Rhyme”) and “Can’t Stop,” both uplifting messages about striving in the face of adversity. Singer/songwriter Renee’ Neufville, a former member of the female soul duo Zhane’ who has been performing with RH Factor for the last two years, wrote the laidback “On the One” (about missing an old lover), and co-wrote three others with Hargrove: the aforementioned “A Place,” the chill meditation “Family” and “Hold On,” which features vocals by none other than Roy himself, Renee’ and RHF drummer Jason “JT” Thomas. Commenting on his vocal feature on this album, Hargrove quips, “I sang on “I’ll Stay” from the first RH Factor album, but this is the first time I’ve sung several bars by myself.”
The man who sang with Roy on “I’ll Stay” was neo soul pioneer D’Angelo, who returns on the new album producing, writing, singing and signifyin’ on the fiery “Bull****.” “I guess he brought me a track he thought would be good for me to play over,”
Recalling the humorous origin of the latter, Hargrove begins, “I was playing a gig there with Directions in Music featuring Michael Brecker and Herbie Hancock and I always carry my portable studio with me. I wrote that in the hotel just after walking to get some fried chicken and Blue Bell ice cream, which they don't sell in
Bringing all this RH Factor funk to life is a unique ensemble of Roy on trumpet, two saxophonists (Keith Anderson and the legendary David “Fathead” Newman), three keyboardists (Charles McCampbell, Bobby Sparks and Neufville), one guitarist (Todd Parsnow), two drummers (Jason “JT” Thomas and Willie Jones III), and - most amazingly - two bass players (Lenny Stalworth and Reggie Washington). “My regular bass player, Reggie, couldn't make the recording sessions at first,” Hargrove shares. “So I hired Lenny, a friend from Berklee, to do the record. But when Reggie heard about Lenny – not wanting him to creep in and take his gig - he was like ‘Wait a minute!’ I thought, ‘two bassists-two drummers - let's go!’”
Going with the flow – in more ways than one – has long been a hallmark of Hargrove’s approach. A major influence along those lines is sax man David “Fathead” Newman, a world class player and among the most fabled members of the late great Ray Charles’ band. It was an honor for
Where Roy describes the RH Factor disc Distractions as “coming more from my personal archives,” Nothing Serious featuring his jazz quintet is a completely different animal...and not just stylistically. “It's important with a straight ahead group for everyone to contribute,” Hargrove explains. “Opening things up compositionally keeps the program well-rounded. And even when they're playing my tunes, everybody’s sound shapes the song.” A key to this cohesiveness can be found in the title of the quintet disc’s fourth track: “Camaraderie.” “That tune is a vehicle for the band to play in a more avant garde way yet still keep it ‘in,’” Hargrove states. Breaking it down even further, he elaborates, “The title suggests togetherness, and a good group has to be very cohesive…everybody knowing where everyone else is breathing. That way if you decide to take the music ‘out,’ whatever happens remains musical. The song is organized chaos, all coming together within a minor blues.” “Camaraderie” also has the distinction of being inspired by the late trumpet great Lester Bowie, the forward thinking co-founder of the acclaimed Art Ensemble of Chicago.
The 8-song Roy Hargrove Quintet disc Nothing Serious moves from Roy’s breathtaking and sensual Flugelhorn ballad “Trust” and the enveloping warmth of “The Gift” to a fierce waltz time swinger “Salima’s Dance” (from the pen of pianist Ronnie Matthews), a relentlessly winding study in melody from bassist D’Wayne Burno evocatively titled “Devil Eyes,” and a whirl through the magical changes of Branislau Kaper’s “Invitation,” the set’s sole jazz standard. Rounding out the stellar quintet are alto saxophonist Justin Robinson (who also plays some lovely flute on “Trust”) and drummer Willie Jones III, the latter of whom has been playing in Hargrove’s groups for eight years. As a whole, this incarnation of the Roy Hargrove Quintet has been playing together for four years, the tightness of which is evident throughout the disc. The band perfected most of the material on the road before the recording.
One glowing exception is the lushly swingin’ “A Day in Vienna,” contributed by special guest Slide Hampton, a living giant of jazz.
Roy Hargrove was born in
Midway through his junior year,
Hargrove spent one year (1988-1989) studying at
In 2005, he was a featured guest with Slide Hampton and the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Band in bi-coastal tributes to James Moody in honor of the saxophonists 80th birthday at Disney Hall in
He has further ventured into the black pop mainstream as a collaborator with edgy soul star D'Angelo and guest appearances on albums by neo soul priestess Erykah Badu, thought-provoking rapper Common, and English acid jazz DJ/producer Gilles Peterson.
Touching back on the statement