This 45 minutes is a mixed bag, and Roy Hargrove’s bag here is a mixed one. There can be no doubting his musical command of his instrument, his creativity and capacities beyond the merely “in fashion” at the serious end of jazz. A reference resource which I shall not name here suggests that there was something almost old-timey—“conservative”—about his performing hard bop after a fashion which some enthusiasts of that music might suggest is timeless. I tend to think there’s too much attention to history, rather than musical context, in current references to the different arts.
I don’t mind talking history (see my CV as student and teacher), so let me mention that in the coming to be of be-bop, and hard-bop, those who talked new and talked fashion were on about musical innovation. This tended to be about doing things musically new, with harmonies and scales and rhythm and even melody. No great premium was put on what was ceasing to be done, by way of this or that sort of expression. Forget for the moment anybody from New Orleans and the Lincoln Center, Dave Burrell—sometime of Archie Shepp’s wild ensembles—produced a very nice piano solo record some time ago saying that the real complexity was in Jelly Roll Morton.
In Morton’s heyday there was also Bix Beiderbecke, and for the media it surely seemed wonderful that Bix was playing in the orchestra of THE KING OF JAZZ, Paul Whiteman, who could have been anorexic without his music ceasing to be elephantine. The NEW that my nameless reference resource seems to be celebrating in respect of Mr. Hargrove is probably to be identified with something like this.
(OK, I know this is a “for dancers only” CD available also on vinyl, but I’m trying to assay it as music).
The opening track—“Rich Man’s Welfare”—is something like West Indians have been playing in London for some time. It features some complex trumpet ensemble work-up to a good standard, all done by Mr. Hargrove, and pretty much what that clever ole Les Paul worked out how to do around 1950. Bux never heard anything of the sort. Nor did he hear the likes of the solo—was it on Keith Anderson’s “Bop Drop”?—by something which sounded like a guitar trying to sound like a tenor saxophone. There was also a decent guitar solo, and after that Mr. Anderson himself showed himself a fair soloist. Renee Neufville sings well enough on Hargrove’s own “Strength”, but it’s a rather tame instrumental performance. On “Listen Here” (an Eddie Harris composition), there’s another good guitar solo with organ behind it. The preceding tenor solo is, I suppose, all right, though falling into pre-hackneyed routine. Mr. Hargrove seems to start a solo in between these two, but he stops and the sound that follows is like a guitar trying to impersonate a trumpet. “Bop Drop” is pleasant organ jazz after a false start. A sort of boogaloo thing liable to crop up in the middle of George Russell’s “Electronic Sonata for Souls Blessed by Music”, it has a good trumpet solo and some fairly musical tenor playing that sounds badly recorded, presumably intentionally. Bobby Sparks plays some stomping organ over a nice guitar-centred rhythm and is a bit fussy with percussion. Great fun.
I am listening to the ska of the first track again, not just because I like to play through a CD as I review it, but because the computer for some reason stopped after the fourth track. The imitation saxophone was on that title, I see now. Perhaps I’m being reminded that this is jolly but unmemorable, or perhaps my computer is reading my mind and re-asking if I want to hear “For Fun” with a cast of thousands, including “Soul-Feast Vocal Remix of ‘Common Free-Style’ Featuring Omar”. Seven minutes twenty-six seconds of synthesised repetition and vocal and percussion, as if some soul quartets of the 1960s (mo’ Motown) had turned up and joined in. This is, I grant, more recent than Bix Beiderbecke, though like the 1920s music Constant Lambert referred to in his wonderful Music, Ho!, it does pose the question: Can the music be all that good if it is full of people singing about it?
Four minutes into the ten of “Universe” and Roy Hargrove is playing beautifully, if not for long. He comes back after some repetitions, which presumably reminded him to ‘move on’—the ladies singing have re-re-repeated their argument in favour of moving on: “The Universe is moving right in line with us”, and also “on time with us”, both of which I shall generously say I doubt. With which overdubbed track is it moving right on time/ in line? Further repetition of this with added muzak of the spheres does, without the least musical objectionableness, go into a repetition fading—presumably toward a distant galaxy?—of “So move on, so move on, so move on”.
So I have done.