Roy Hargrove with Strings: Moment to Moment


By Ben Varkentine

Aaaahhhh. With his quintet backed by the Monterey Jazz Festival Chamber Orchestra, flugelhorn and trumpet player Roy Hargrove’s Moment to Moment is the album equivalent of slipping into a hot tub with a good book. Hargrove’s warm tone, solo or in duet with Sherman Irby on alto sax, gives the music an ethereal, floating quality that lends a calming effect. When people say music has charms to soothe the savage beast, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.

The most effective song here is a Hargrove original, “Natural Wonders,” which emphasizes the democratic nature of Hargrove’s Quintet. He sets the stage, and Irby dances on it, while pianist Larry Willis tinkles in the background, Gerald Cannon plays a climbing bass figure and Willie Jones III splashes the drums. And when I say this band original is the most effective, it is no small thing, considering that the other songs here include: “You Go To My Head,” on which the strings and Willis raise the curtain before the others enter. Mancini’s “Moment to Moment,” which puts a sad melody line over a quiet thriller of a string arrangement, along with Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” this is probably the best string feature on the album. Jimmy Dorsey’s “I’m Glad There Is You,” which unfolds like satin.

I have a compilation of ballads by Clifford Brown, including excerpts from his ballads-with-strings albums, which I love, and this is an album in that tradition. The title of another band original on Moment to Moment, Jones’ “Another Time” calls to mind the Richie Powell song “Time,” cut by Brown’s quintet with Sonny Rollins, Powell, and Max Roach. Compositionally I would say it earns the association, but I also feel that this is the one track on which the strings are intrusive. Hargrove and especially Willis, who rings out like a bell here, play so beautifully putting strings under them seems to detract from the purity of the moment.

Perusing the liner notes of this CD, I came to the conclusion that sending it to me is an unwitting bribe on someone’s part. It was recorded in and inspired in part by Northern California, the home to which I hope someday to return (if anyone reading PopMatters has an apartment they’d like to rent cheap), has liner notes by a San Francisco Examiner writer, and photographs by a Northern California photographer, Michael Piazza. The notes call it “a Northern California ‘family affair.” So what’s not for me to like?

The B-side to ballad albums like this one is that without some variety, a paralyzing sameness can sink in that makes the tracks run together. At least half the time here, Hargrove and company rise to the occasion, but math would indicate that means on at least half, they don’t. The soothing quality of which I wrote above can slip over to the yawn inducing, without care. “A Time For Love,” for example, strikes me only inasmuch as it totally failed to strike me.

But this is still a good album to accompany you to bed—where, of course, there are other things to do besides sleep.

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