By Jim Schutze
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What with Radish, Quindon Tarver, and LeAnn Rimes clogging the arteries of the music press these days, it's often overlooked that North Texas' original major-label wunderkind was jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove. But that was a few years back, and it's easy to forget that Hargrove, who graduated from Dallas' Arts Magnet High School in the late '80s, was mastering Freddie Hubbard hard bop lines at an age when most youngsters were discussing the ironic implications of Scooby Doo.
Hargrove's relative local anonymity goes beyond that, however. He lives in New York and--face it--jazz musicians experience the near-0.0 public recognition factor also awarded biochemists, Nobel laureate poets, and other losers. But Texas fans who do appreciate Hargrove will have a chance to reacquaint themselves with the hometown kid's magic in June. First, he'll hit Dallas Saturday, June 7, at the Dallas Business Committee for the Arts' 10th annual Obelisk Awards at the Meyerson Symphony Center, performing with R&B vocalist Erykah Badu and pianist Fred Sanders' trio--all of whom are Arts Magnet alumni. Then it's on to Austin with his new 11-piece band Crisol, the Cuban-American-Puerto Rican musical hybrid that backed the trumpeter on his latest Verve album, Habana, for a three-day residency at the Clarksville/West End Jazz Fest starting June 10.
In Austin, Hargrove and Crisol will be featured at a workshop-jam session at Cedar Street on the 10th and after the Fifth Annual Jazz Player's and Critic's Poll Awards at Cedar Street the next evening. Finally, Crisol will headline a concert at the State Theater on the 12th.
And while any visit from Hargrove is a cause for celebration, the fact that he's touring behind Habana represents an exotic new direction for the musician. The album is a celebration of a jazz tradition that remains partially hidden (to Americans, anyway) behind the borders of Castro's Cuba. It came about when Hargrove accepted an invitation from Cuban piano wizard Chucho Valdes to perform at the 16th Annual Havana Jazz Festival--a major cultural event for which Valdes serves as the artistic director. While Hargrove was familiar with elements of the Afro-Cuban style through Dizzy Gillespie's collaborations with percussionist-vocalist Chano Pozo, and through the work of trumpeter-sax man Mario Bauza, Hargrove himself had never actually been to Cuba. He found the experience overwhelming.
"We went down there in February '96," Hargrove says. "It was a nonstop interaction with great musicians. Just playing with those cats made me realize that every note has to be played like it's your last one. The musicians are so incredible, so dedicated."
In conversation, Hargrove sounds even younger than 27. His frequent laughter is easy and--what else?--musical, and though he speaks with quiet ease and confidence, there's a charming enthusiasm to his cadence--not unlike a bebop Ken Griffey Jr. In fact, that Hargrove employs actual jazz parlance like "cats" and "pad" would seem almost the conversational equivalent of an eager thespian reading for a part in a bad play--if Hargrove wasn't one of the greatest trumpeters in the world.
Which is, of course, a major reason Hargrove and his band spent 11 days jamming in Cuba. All involved enjoyed the experience so much they decided to set up further live collaborations in New York and Europe, and it was there that Hargrove came up with the idea of an album.
"The whole thing was such an amazing learning opportunity," he says, "that I thought it was a good idea to document our interaction. And that's how Habana came about."
It's de rigeur for jazz musicians to play on one another's recording dates, but given that many of the musicians who came to form Crisol are Cuban nationals--who aren't allowed to travel in the United States--certain political bureaucracies had to be dealt with. Ultimately, they recorded Habana during the band's week-long residency at Italy's Umbria Jazz Festival. The group--which includes U.S. musicians Gary Bartz (alto sax), Frank Lacy (trombone), and Russell Malone (guitar); Cubans Valdes, Miguel Diaz (congas), Jose Luis Quintana (timbales), Horaci Hernandez (drums), and Jorge Reyes (bass); and Puerto Ricans David Sanchez (tenor) and John Benitez (contrabass)--rehearsed for a week before recording the album in one performance at the Teatro Mancinelli Opera House.
Listening to the album, it's no wonder Hargrove named the unit Crisol--Spanish for melting pot. Habana is eclectic yet flowing, full of mood and texture. The intricate bubbling lines of Hargrove's own "Dream Traveler," along with Valdes' incendiary "Mr. Bruce" and "Mambo for Roy," represent the more chops-heavy aspect of the band.
Meanwhile, more introspective material, like Bartz's breathtaking "Nusia's Poem" or Hargrove's intensely melodic "Ballad for the Children" and "The Mountaings," provides terrific counterpoint. The essence of the record is cool and tropical, but in a fresh, authentic context far removed from the limbo music one hears during happy hour at Jack Tar Village.
"One of the attractive things about the idea of Crisol," Hargrove explains, "is that any music is profoundly affected by a particular culture. The more I learn and hear of different cultures, the more I want to know. I try to be very versatile."
But it wasn't just with Habana that Hargrove began to stretch out; he's been crossing stylistic borders since he left Dallas at 18, signed to the prestigious RCA/Novus label. At the time, he set out to explore the infinite permutations of bop, hard bop, and post bop, and did so over the course of several years, resulting in such classics as Diamond in the Rough and Public Eye.
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