july 2008

Roy Hargrove
Groovin’ High/Emarcy Records

In explaining his aims in recording Earfood, Roy Hargrove said his plan was to deliver “…a recording steeped in tradition and sophistication, while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity,” with the ultimate goal being to give the listener “a feeling of transcendence.” The trumpeter hit his mark. His tight, disciplined quintet is in perfect tune with its leader’s mindset, playing with an easygoing grace and bracing emotional heat on a baker’s dozen tunes consisting of seven Hargrove originals and six tasty covers. The only uncertain element about the treatment of Cedar Walton’s lively, album opening “I’m Not So Sure” is how high the band is going to take it. Pianist Gerald Clayton introduces a herky-jerky rhythm line that’s underpinned by drummer Montez Coleman’s propulsive, anxious pattern ahead of Justin Robinson (alto sax) and Hargrove stating the flighty, stuttering theme. The band then begins to work wonders in the development phase, with exciting dynamic flourishes in the upper and lower registers, keyed by Hargrove’s subdued, searching trumpet solos, and ultimately returning to restate the theme in cool ensemble terms before yielding to a final, driving flourish from Clayton on the 88s. That little bit of fireworks in the last few seconds is the ideal setup for the easygoing Hargrove original, “Brown,” a cool, languorous breeze of a composition with a sensuous, muted trumpet exposition from Hargrove, a yawning cry of an alto sax interjection from Robinson and some striking harmonics throughout. On the ballad side, philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet inspired a reflective interlude from Hargrove titled “Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked,” its winsome melody line evoking a range of moods suitable to the song’s title—winsome, bittersweet, even resigned—as the trumpeter moans a soft, arcing passage over Clayton’s bluesy piano, with only the cascading, jittery notes from a Robinson sax run suggesting the anxiety that lay beneath the subdued feelings. In a lighter mode, “The Stinger” is a gently swinging, horn-enriched workout, and “Style” is a medium-cool gem of sax commentary alternately soothing and urgent, propulsive piano and a signature walking bass line from Danton Boller, all bolstering Hargrove’s keening upper register flight about halfway through the near-seven-minute ride. The closing number is a real Hargrove treat, being a live version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” recorded at a show in Gleisdorf, Austria. Clayton’s simmering piano starts out in a country church but by the second verse has migrated to a bluesier mode more fitting for a lowdown, smoky saloon as the tune picks up steam behind Hargrove and Robinson’s straight-ahead, soaring explorations of Cooke’s melody, then swaggers to a closing ensemble blast of brass and percussion, all to enthusiastic applause. Well deserved it is. And well served are listeners by the bill of fare comprising Hargrove’s “Sound Nutrition,” as he has nicknamed the album—it’ll fill you up, but it won’t let you down, one might say.—David McGee

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