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Music Review: Roy Hargrove Quintet – Earfood

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My, how time flies.

It didn't seem so long ago when Wynton Marsalis spotted this young trumpet talent at a Dallas high school in the mid-eighties. Since then, Roy Hargrove has recorded fourteen albums as a leader, and another co-led with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker. For these efforts, he's won two Grammies. Hargrove has also recorded with such diverse talents as Slide Hampton, Erykah Badu, Sonny Rollins, Diana Krall, John Mayer, D'Angelo and Common.

Throughout it all, Hargrove's technical skills on the trumpet is matched only by his versatility. To my ears, he plays with the quiet elegance of Marsalis, but is more apt to groove than swing. He's also been compared to Lee Morgan and his longtime hero Freddie Hubbard, but Hargrove remains firmly his own man.

RH also follows his own path when deciding what kind of music to play on his records. While he did start off in post-bop and showed everyone he had the basics down good, he's since branched out into mildly Cuban-styled jazz (the wonderful Habana (1997)), backwards in time to vintage bebop (Parker's Mood (1995)) and forward to a fusion of jazz and hip-hop (Distractions (2006)). And so, any new Hargrove release is likely to take off in a different direction from what came just before. Sure enough, this week's release of his 15th album, Earfood, finds Hargrove zigging after he zagged.

Earfood is nominally another post-bop Hargrove album, but it's more than just that. There's nearly an equal mixture of covers and originals and the tempos, styles and within this music form vary greatly, providing a well-rounded look at how the leader plays within the forms presented by the songs.

Notably, Hargrove recorded this album with his road band, which audibly lends to the energy and cohesiveness of the group playing on this record. Besides Hargrove on trumpet, the band includes Justin Robinson (alto sax, flute), Gerald Clayton (piano), Danton Boller (bass) and Montez Coleman (drums).

While the songs do sounds very distinct from each other, the common thread in them is that none of them are so harmonically complex as to turn off all but the jazz snobs. As Hargrove himself put it, "My goal in this project is to have a recording that is steeped in tradition and sophistication, while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity." In other words, you can instantly tell there's some good, thoughtful music being played but sounds appealing at the gut level all the same.

There's several examples of those kinds of songs. "Strasbourg/St. Denis" is a bass-driven groover that has a catchy sax/trumpet line. "Style" is also built from the bottom provided by Boller, and is a sophisticated mid-tempo finger-snapper and features a fine piano solo by Clayton. The pretty, loose-limbed "Brown" provides an excellent showcase for Hargrove's muted trumpet.

Lou Marini's "Starmaker," the longest track of this collection, mimics the same underlying rhythmic pattern of Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" along with the solemn horn lines without copying the melody at all. On this cut, Robinson's sax solo packs some passion. "Rouge" is a brief, mostly tempo-free piece that seems to float from one chord to the next.Photobucket

The Hubbard-styled "The Stinger" is one of the cookers of this batch of songs and whose melody sticks with the listener long after the song is over. Other highlights includes a Cedar Walton song "I'm Not So Sure," which the band attacks with precision and makes the composition simpler than it probably really is. "Speak Low" is perhaps the only of the six non-originals that could be called a standard, but Hargrove's sublime phrasing on his flugelhorn manages to make it sound almost like he owned that song all along.

If for some reason you're still not sure if Hargrove wants the listener to have fun through the first 12 tracks, all doubts are dispelled on the last one. The old Sam Cooke tune "Bring It On Home To Me," was recorded live in Gleisdof, Austria, but the way these cats play it, you'd think they were smack dab in the middle of the New Orleans' French Quarter. A very festive way to end the album.

Just as last May's release of James Carter's Present Tense provided a good sampling of the many facets of Carter's acoustic music, so does Earfood does much the same for fellow "young lion" Roy Hargrove.

Earfood, on the Emarcy/Groovin' High label, became available for sale on July 29.

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