IN HIS NEARLY 20 YEARS AS A "Young Lion," Roy Hargrove has grown and flown in jazz, tinting the genre with bright, interesting musical shadings.
No matter what the trumpeter dives into it -- pop, hard bop, hip-hop, blues, R&B;, Cuban jazz, jazz standards -- the native Texan charges the material with soul. It's that essential, transcendental feeling that invigorates and electrifies music, giving it life.
This spring, Hargrove releases two albums simultaneously on the venerable Verve label: Distractions is credited to the RH Factor, the artist's loose, funk-oriented outfit, and Nothing Serious is by the Roy Hargrove Quintet, the musician's straight-ahead jazz group.
Though both albums showcase different sides of the trumpeter's musical personality, they glow with Hargrove's luminous playing. His silken, mellifluous lines curl around, float over and caress the melody. And when he wants to, the man can move the crowd with his horn, pushing the groove the way Donald Byrd did back in the day.
Distractions, the funk-fusion record, is a more fluid follow-up to 2003's radiant Hard Groove. That set featured about 40 esteemed musicians from various genres: Q-Tip and Common held it down for hip-hop, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu for "neo-soul," Bernard Wright and Meshell Ndegeocello for everything in between. As fun and groove-rich as it was, Hard Groove felt a bit scattered at times. Distractions, on the other hand, holds together better. It feels like a more-concise, better-focused statement.
Musical guests abound: bassist Reggie Washington, tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman and drummer Willie Jones III. And Hargrove's homeboy, D'Angelo (hey, where is his next album?), is back. Renee Neufville, the tall, dark-skinned half of the '90s hit pop duo Zhane, is featured prominently on Distractions, contributing lyrics, playing keyboards and singing. Hargrove was smart to tap such an underrated talent.
This time around, the grooves on the 12-cut CD stomp a bit harder. Fuzz tones and squiggly synth lines, reminiscent of the early '80s electro-funk of Zapp, accent the beats and deep bass lines. Glints of James Brown, Parliament and Dexter Wansel peek here and there.
Standouts on Distractions include the dreamy, two step-inducer, "On the One." Hargrove's lines flutter around Neufville's assured, graceful vocals.
"Family" is a breezy, after-dark ballad that recalls the overlooked work of Rodney Franklin. "A Place" is a danceable, gritty ditty that's part Yarbrough & Peoples salted with a little George Clinton.
Where Distractions showcases Hargrove's down-home, free-wheeling side, Nothing Serious, despite the title, displays more of the thinking man.
It's a straight-ahead jazz offering, his first in more than 10 years. In a sense, Nothing Serious is a belated follow-up to Family, the trumpeter's well-received 1995 Verve debut. But echoes of 1997's Grammy-winning Habana can be heard throughout the new jazz disc. Afro-Cuban rhythms bolster "A Day in Vienna."
On the eight-cut album, Hargrove is joined by alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, who doubles on flute, pianist Ronnie Matthews, drummer Jones, bassist Dwayne Burno and trombonist Slide Hampton.
The playing throughout is never sloppy; the lines, the riffs are thoughtfully executed. And there's real chemistry here.
Highlights include the aforementioned "A Day in Vienna," a sun-splashed Hampton composition, and "Camaraderie," which noodles around a bit before taking off. The moods are nicely varied on the disc. You just wish Hargrove was a little more daring on the record.
His solos, at times, feel as if he's holding back a bit. But as it stands, the album is still a solid effort. His playing, however safe and inward, is done with soul. And that matters most.