By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
So where to next? Obviously funk, fusion, R&B, and hip-hop, a road fellow thirtysomething jazz strivers McBride, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and the slightly older Branford Marsalis (with his Buckshot LeFonque band) have traveled with some success. Now here comes Hargrove with Hard Groove, a pleasantly accessible disc that's about half dance party, half post-bash chill session. It's probably too edgy for smooth jazz radio and may rely a little too much on urban grooves for the likes of mainstream jazz programmers. Their loss. Our gain.
Hard Groove's vocal tracks are uniformly mellow, laid-back, and always funky. Common drops a breezy rap on "Common Free Style"; D'Angelo covers Funkadelic's "I'll Stay"; Erykah Badu, who went to high school with Hargrove, flows gracefully over "Poetry"'s grooves with Q-Tip and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello; "Forget Regret," sung by Stephanie McKay, is both longing and melancholy; and "Juicy," a midnight come-on led by singer Renee Neufville and dripping, like several of the other tracks, with James Poyser's warm Rhodes piano work, has Karl Denson sitting in on flute. Though not very innovative, the results amount to a jazzy, soulful house party, the kind you hate to see end.
Meanwhile Hargrove, who wrote ten of the album's thirteen tracks, delivers some mean horn as usual, making like a siren on the impressionistic "Interlude" with bassist Reggie Washington and Willie Jones III. He also shares fertile improv space with saxophonists Keith Anderson, Jacques Scharz-Bart, Steve Coleman, and various rhythm men; all solo fluently or with jagged edges according to the tune at hand. But as the album title promises, the hard but pliable groove trumps the solos. That's a compliment. -- Philip Booth