The Booker T.-Berklee grad was Wynton Marsalis' prodigy-acolyte, so it figures most of his dozen-album catalog plays it straight--real standard-time stuff, more or less, down to the Charlie Parker trib of '95 and the tangled-up-in-string-section collection that was his last release. But Hargrove, all of 33, fares better when not being so bop, as evidenced by his '97 Habana
, which made like Dizzy G. and traveled to Cuba for its inspiration and returned drenched in perspiration; it swung like an elementary-school playground at recess. But finally he sounds like a young man whose childhood record collection consisted of more than well-worn Verve vinyl; he fesses up to the Earth, Wind & Fire that was the soundtrack of his life, the Funkadelic he musta heard and felt, the Stevie Wonder he musta wondered about when not taking trumpet lessons before, during and after school. Took him a little while, but Hargrove gets off the concert stage long enough to get down with the R&B crowd, which does him a world of good; far better a Clinton-Hazel cover than one more Mancini-Mercer nod, of which we need no more.
Hard Groove's the inevitable full-length after a series of one-off cameos with the likes of fellow Arts Magnet attraction Erykah Badu, Common and D'Angelo, who return the favor; also dropping by, sounds like at 3 in the a.m. when the studio smells of more than just incense, are Q-Tip, Meshell Ndegeocello, Pino Palladino and some 16 other soul stirrers who turn Hargrove into a special guest on his own record. Don't know if it all works--at times, the fusion sounds like an ominous Weather Report; occasionally there's a quiet storm a-brewin'--but what does hit the mark sticks and stings. The Badu-Ndegeocello-Tip tip, "Poetry," has more firepower than Mama's Gun; D'Angelo's redo of "I'll Stay" stands on the verge of getting it on and gives in only at the last little bit; and "Juicy," with Renee Neufville singing and James Poyser ringing his Rhodes, runs all down your hands. But in the end what Hargrove's doing is staking his claim to the claim that everything funky about funk and soulful about soul comes from jazz anyhow, which makes Hard Groove, ya know, less evolutionary than merely inevitable.