Horn of plenty

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.

In '95, though, he jumped ship to Verve. "I left RCA/Novus after four records," he says. "It wasn't really a negative situation. It was basically that there had been a lot of personnel changes that went down during my time at the label. And some of the new people weren't really that knowledgeable about jazz. I mean, I did a live record called Of Kindred Souls, and they pretty much didn't do anything for it." He takes a deep breath and giggles. "I took that as my cue. Verve made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

Hargrove wasted no time continuing his explorations with his new label. In 1996, he cut Family, a tribute to fealty, kinship, and friendship, which abounded with musical and liner-note references to home and hearth. It was a melodic masterwork thoughtfully reminiscent of the cool tradition of Chet Baker or Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain period.

And now, with Crisol, Hargrove is stretching out again. It's the sort of stylistic maneuvering that seems typical of a lot of the young jazzers today, most visibly from Branford Marsalis, first with Sting and, lately, working the fringes of hip-hop with Buckshot LaFonque.

"To me," Hargrove says, "music is a vast world with different areas to be explored. You shouldn't limit yourself to one particular flavor. You sort of have to look at the whole spectrum." It is this openness and curiosity--combined with a world-class talent and work ethic--which has transformed Hargrove from a Young Lion, with enviable but slightly derivative bop lines, to a cutting-edge innovator. And--as with Saturday's Meyerson gig--it says a lot that he hasn't forgotten his roots or his old pals.

But the genesis of Hargrove's homecoming may well have occurred when he ran into his old classmate Fred Sanders at the North Sea Jazz Festival last summer. When last they spoke, just after high school, Hargrove was off to New York and certain stardom, while Sanders was an adept cellist whose penchant for jazz piano was merely a hobby. Well, not anymore.

According to Mark Elliot, co-owner and producer for Leaning House Records, Dallas' innovative jazz label, Hargrove was so blown away by Sanders' piano that he told him he'd be interested in helping out on any future recording projects Sanders might have. When Elliot arranged an early June date at San Marcos' Firehouse Studios for Sanders (which is tentatively scheduled to be released as a Leaning House CD), it wasn't difficult to entice Hargrove to come down. And when the Clarksville-West End people heard about it, Elliot said, an offer for Crisol to headline the festival was shortly forthcoming.

Still, the Sanders gig was a premium enticement for Hargrove. With such other luminaries as Verve guitarist Mark Whitfield, tenor king Marchel Ivery, and ex-Wynton Marsalis alto saxophonist Wessell Anderson kicking in on the project, the Fred Sanders record is an extension of the "friends and family" motif that permeates Hargrove's philosophy.

"This is a big opportunity," Elliot says, "because Roy doesn't do this for everybody. You've got all these Young Turk heavyweights with slightly different styles, and I'm pretty sure they've never played together before. Add Marchel--an old-school guy--and it's yet another dimension. I think we'll see these guys trying to cut each other, and that's what you want on a session."

But while Hargrove marches through Texas on a tripartite musical mission, it would be nice if the Dallas musical community would reciprocate his kindness. Because, though he doesn't sound bitter about it, Hargrove is a bit hurt that he can't get any regular work in Dallas.

"Yeah, I just wish that maybe one day I could get a real gig in my hometown," he says, laughing softly. "It's quite difficult, you see. I play anywhere--in small clubs, big clubs, large venues, jazz festivals, and in Europe. Since I've been recording professionally, I've played all over the world--except I can't get a gig in my hometown. It's pretty sad.


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