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Earfood by Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove hasn’t defined the term "Earfood" explicitly as far as I know, but his new CD by the same name, provides a 67-minute-long musical demonstration of the concept. By stating his intention of creating "simple melodies moving around luscious chords," Hargrove has established his objectives for Earfood: listening enjoyment, and more importantly, listener retention of the album’s music. Hargrove has written and chosen music that remains in one’s consciousness long after the music has dissipated. Another part of the "stickiness" of the music (remember how only a few years ago web sites were supposed to be "sticky" to keep interest?) is Hargrove’s glowing personality itself, expressed through his horn. Instead of Miles Davis’s coolness or Wynton Marsalis’s bluesiness or Dizzy Gillespie’s wow factor, Hargrove projects brightness, even when playing impressionistically or balladically. Hargrove’s sunniness and his emphasis upon melody serve him well.

My favorite example is the jaunty "Strasbourg / St. Denis," based as it is on playful repetition from beginning to end. The initial melody, played in unison by Hargrove and tenor saxophonist Justin Robinson, seems memorable enough, accented as it is by the two-note exclamation in the fourth measure. But then it moves, cheerily enough in the second chorus, into a call-and-response motive whose spiraling acceleration evolves into a quick round. Hargrove reports that "Strasbourg / St. Denis" Is always an audience pleaser, and it’s easy to understand why as its rhythm becomes danceable and its melody becomes uplifting.

Even on the slower, less buoyant numbers, the appeal of Hargrove’s tone remains identifiable and intact. "Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked" reminds one of Hargrove’s ability to reveal harmonic nuances within a ballad, this one his own, and he indeed meets his criterion for the "luscious chords" in this earfood for thought and reflection. However, Hargrove perceives lusciousness of chords in Kurt Weill’s "Speak Low," inspired by Sarah Vaughan’s unforgettable version that made effective use of her wide range and narrative style. Hargrove plays the piece (of, yes, memorable, singable melody) in largo tempo unembellished in the lower range of the instrument making more effective his swelling dynamics into the higher notes of the bridge. Lou Marini’s gorgeious "Starmaker" likewise showcases Hargrove’s ability to bring out the beauty of a ballad, subdued within a limited melodic range before improvisations proceed.

Still, Hargrove’s ability to generate excitement, even when muted, occurs on "The Stinger" with its natural force and unconventional minor-key changes with off-the-beat accents and anticipation of the beat. And for a final demonstration of Hargrove’s power over an audience, he concludes Earfood with Sam Cooke’s "Bring It on Home to Me," performed live in Austria. Only three minutes long, the track’s six-eight sway, reinforced by pianist Gerald Clayton’s rumbling chords, wastes no time in combining the trumpet’s power with the irresistibility of a well-written song.... the essence of earfood.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Roy Hargrove
  • CD Title: Earfood
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Groovin High'
  • Tracks: I’m Not So Sure, Brown, Strasbourg / St. Denis, Starmaker, Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked, The Stinger, Rouge, Mr. Clean, Style, Divine, To Wisdom The Prize, Speak Low, Bring It On Home To Me
  • Musicians: Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Justin Robinson, alto saxophone, flute; Gerald Clayton, piano; Danton Boller, bass; Montez Coleman, drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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