Music

Roy Hargrove Presents the RH Factor: Hard Groove

Mark Anthony Neal

Roy Hargrove Presents the Rh Factor

Hard Groove

Label: Verve
US Release Date: 2003-05-19
UK Release Date: 2003-06-23
Amazon
iTunes
"This ain't rapping, this is street bop / Now get up off you ass like your seat's hot."
-- Nas "Made You Look"

It was always a natural coming together. The music of "old southern men full of northern pain" (holla back bruh Umar) and the music of their angry-ass offspring (once removed) -- both with rhythmic names that seemed to mirror each other (bebophiphopbebophiphop). And true indeed there were cats who claimed that they could be the architects of this -- Guru's Jazzmatazz (1993), A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory (1992), and Digable Planets' Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993). Even the jazz cats tried to get in the mix -- Miles weighed in from the grave with Doo-Bop (who the hell told him to work with Easy Mo Be on his last tracks?), Branford Marsalis got down with his alter-ego Buckshot Lefonque, M-Base veterans Greg Osby and Steve Coleman put their good foots forward, respectively, with 3-D Lifestyles and A Tale of Three Cities (with the Five Metrics). Most of these latter efforts were heart-felt and good intentioned, but with the exception of Osby's "Mr. Gutterman", most of them fell flat.

From the time most cats heard Lil' Roy blow on Diamond in the Rough (1989), there was always the sense that he was "the one". Listening to Roy Hargrove and the rest of them Neo-bop young lions (Marc Cary, Antonio Hart, Gregory Hutchinson, and Rodney Thomas Whitaker) flow on Miles's "Milestones" and Hargrove's original "Caryisms" (from 1992's The Vibe) you got the sense that hip-hop had in fact already blessed the jazz gods. There have been rumors for more than a decade that Roy was doin' a hip-hop recording (I was riding in the Integra with C-Dub talking about it months before Race Matters dropped), but Roy paced himself, paid tribute to the elders (With the Tenors of Our Time, 1994 and Parker's Mood, 1995), got his Afro-Cuban vibe on (Habana, 1997), and sought out some fellow travelers, namely D'Angelo, who made Roy's flow a big part of his brilliant (don't hate it was brilliant) Voodoo. Roy Hargrove Presents The RH Factor: Hard Groove (Roy hard groove, get it?) is the product of that patience.

Of course Roy's effort comes with some drama -- the classic jazz artist "sells out" to cross over crap. Critics tuned out Miles's On the Corner- era recordings simply because they felt he wasn't living up to the standard he set for himself with classics like Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain (there's some correlation in the current talk about Tiger's slump). Thirty-years later we now understand that Miles was both raising the bar for jazz artists' commercial success and diligently trying to get the music back to the social and cultural spaces that birthed it and out of the conservatory and concert hall. And oh yeah, if you hadn't noticed the shit was bangin'. Same goes for cats like Donald Byrd, Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, and others who always understood that the best jazz music -- really the most useful -- was the jazz music that moved your ass, without trading off on artistic innovation. The genre's monthly bible, Billboard anticipated (or instigated) critical discomfort with Hargrove's "funk" effort by querying a panel of legendary sidemen like drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Reggie Workman about Hard Groove. Workman put it best when he asserted that Hargrove was "playing the music of his time. He's supposed to do that", adding that, "I did that myself when I was younger, playing the music of my time, R&B. I never recorded it, but I sure played it." (Billboard, April 2003) And that's the reality: the 33-year-old Hargrove is quintessential post-Soul -- equally at home with the old school (both Miles Dewey and EWF) and the boom-batter that has defined the hip-hop era.

The genius of Hargrove's Hard Groove is that he chose to broaden perception of contemporary "urban" music by drawing on hip-hop, spoken word, classic funk and Quiet Storm grooves. The core musicians (The RH Factor) on the disc are a loose collective that includes saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart (see Meshell Ndegeocello's Cookie: the Anthropological Mixtape), keyboardists James Poyser and Bernard Wright (see 1981's definitive 'Nard), legendary session guitarist Cornell Dupree, and bassist Reggie Washington. But Roy Hargrove is arguably at the center of a distinct generation of post-soul aestheticians. So it's not surprising that he could also call on the "guest" talents of Erykah Badu and her boo Common, M-base founder Steve Coleman, D'Angelo, Ndegeocello, and Q-tip.

The opening and title track sounds like it's right out of the Grover Washington, Jr. songbook. The late saxophonist, who was consistently one of the best-selling jazz artists of the 1970s and 1980s, was a secret indulgence for hard-core jazz artists, who, while acknowledging that Washington was more groove than riff, wished that they could "move the crowd" like he did. The track, written by Bernard Wright, features an angular melody that rescues the track from becoming utterly mundane. The flow on "Hard Groove" is pretty consistent with the majority of the instrumental tracks on the disc like the chunk-funky "Pastor-T" and the fluid "Liquid Sheets" (reminiscent of Donald Byrd's recordings for the Landmark label in the late 1980s and early 1990s). More interesting are tracks like "Out of Town", which features Steve Coleman on alto and the sexy-ass "The Joint", which recalls some of the classic slow jams of folks like Norman Connors and Dexter Wansel.

Hargrove and the RH Factor are at their best, though, when in exchange with some of the guest vocalists. Given Hargrove's love of hip-hop, the choice to include Common and Q-Tip was a no brainer. However, both appearances are underwhelming, with Common trying to sound too jazzy (like he's some kind of spoken word poet) on "Common Free Style" and Q-Tip sounding like . . . well, Q-Tip on "Poetry". Though Tip is one of the most distinct voices in hip-hop, too often when out on the limb without Ali Shaheed's gentle hand, bruh comes off as just plain annoying. Ms. Badu's breathy interlude midway through the song transforms it into a cascading gem that recalls so much that was good about her brilliant sophomore effort Mama's Gun (2000).

Vocalist Stephanie McKay contributes the bluesy "Forget Regret", as Hargrove follows a strategy that Branford Marsalis (and Norman Conners before him) followed so well on his two Buckshot LeFonque recordings by including some seriously upscale vocal performances from the likes of Tammy Townsend ("Ain't It Funny") and a then unknown Frank McComb ("Phoenix"). The same goes for Renee Neuville's performance on "Juicy" (a song she co-wrote) and Shelby Johnson's flow on "How I Know". The true highlights of Hard Groove come via appearances by Anthony Hamilton, fresh off his star-turn with the Nappy Roots on "Po' Folks", and the increasingly reclusive D'Angelo. Hamilton opens "Kwah/Home" with a bluesy riff that is very reminiscent of David Peaston's vocals on Lester Bowie's "For Louis" (All the Magic, 1983). The song then makes a shift (one of several on the track) into a backbeat groove (bottomed out by Ms. Ndegeocello) that allows Hamilton to do his thing.

But it is Mr. Archer (D'Angelo) who brings out the best in the RH Factor as the collaborators dig deep into the funk bible to retrieve Funkadelic's "I'll Stay" from their 1974 classic Standing on the Verge of Getting It On. Brilliant in its own right, the original recording captures a mood best described as a secret mythical jam session that featured the legendary guitarist Eddie Hazel, Isaac Hayes, and Donny Hathaway. In other words, you could smell the funk coming off the vinyl grooves (how Ja Ja put it: "they gonna smell me on this one") and to their credit, D'Angelo, Hargrove, Bernard Wright, et al, get it right. Much is to be said about D'Angelo just taking his time (he's helming the groove on a Wurlitzer) and the song clocks in a few seconds short of eight minutes, every bit of it chock full of trunk-funk. Taking as a whole, the RH Factor's performance of "I'll Stay" is one of the definitive moments of the so-called neo-soul era, perhaps rivaled only by Badu's and the Roots' "You Got Me", Nedegocello's "Fool of Me", Maxwell's "Ascension", and of course, D'Angelo's "Untitled".

Roy Hargrove is one of the most prolific and innovative jazz artists of his generation. In that regard Hard Groove and the RH Factor may be the start of something special. As good as this disc is, the real proof will come when they head back into the studio and do-again.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image