Roy Hargrove is more than a fine trumpeter and bandleader, he's an ambitious and versatile one as well. In a day and age when artists sometimes go years between releases, Hargrove has separate discs with two different groups out simultaneously on Verve. One is a fairly straight-ahead set with the Roy Hargrove Quintet entitled Nothing Serious, while the other is Distractions, a funky workout from his neo-soul group the RH Factor. In addition to Hargrove, both groups also feature Willie Jones III on drums and each released is graced by the presence of an elder statesman--master trombonist Slide Hampton and veteran jazz/R&B saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, respectively.
Nothing Serious is Hargrove's first acoustic date since the turn of the century, and what a nice listen it is. Though there is some variation in mood, from the Latin rhythm of the title cut to the Ornette & Cherry-like theme of "Trust," the album flows smoothly and shows a cohesion reminiscent of a mid-sixties hard bop session on Blue Note. The album's fourth track is a Hargrove original entitled "Camaraderie" and it is a fitting title for a group that shows just that, particularly in the interplay between Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson. Hampton drops in to illuminate three tunes, his own "A Day in Vienna," pianist Ronnie Matthews' "Salima's Dance" and the standard "Invitation." The Quintet plus one plays music that is alternately elegant and intense, with the rhythm section of Jones, Matthews and bassist Dwayne Burno not afraid to push the tempo as things start to get too laid back.
Distractions is another kind of affair altogether. While the Quintet starts cool and heats up to a rolling boil, the RH Factor begins where the other group leaves off. Bassists Lenny Stallworth and Reggie Washington are right up front in the mix, playing a leading role rather than Burno's supporting one. There is plenty of fine improvisation from Newman and Hargrove to satisfy adventurous jazz fans, but the grooves on songs like "On the One" and "Bull***t" (sic) are heavy enough to belong on a record by Parliament/Funkadelic or Prince. Among the most enjoyable moments are the four brief abstract interludes that bear the albums title and bridge the various cuts. The RH Factor brings the funk very convincingly, making this a fun ride.
Roy Hargrove's paired entry on Verve offers something for everyone. Purists should enjoy a lovely outing in Nothing Serious, while the lively Distractions will satisfy those listeners who need something to keep the lower half of the body involved as well. Though the two albums vary considerably in mood, they are unified by the inspired playing and sound musicianship Hargrove and his bands bring to the table in each.