The latest works from trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Nothing Serious and Distractions, do not attempt to bridge the gap between the brilliant straightahead jazz he played for most of his career and the soul, funk and hip-hop grooves that his RH Factor laid down on his last two albums. Instead, Nothing Serious, from his quintet, and Distractions, featuring his Factor, just split the two sides of Hargrove right down the middle. Yet both discs feature inventive and infectious music.
The RH Factor disc actually features tracks titled “Distractions,” which must make the quintet the reflective group. Nonetheless, you can hear some of what makes Hargrove an enthusiastic groover in his quintet playing and compositions: the easy way he rides a catchy rhythmic hiccup on “The Gift,” for example, or the insistent swing of his quiet yet assertive solo on “Trust.” You can also hear a bunch of excellent straight-up jazz playing, like the sprays of notes he unleashes on Leo Quintero’s “Nothing Serious” and his creative leaps around the angular chords he wrote for “Camaraderie.”
Hargrove leads his quintet with a democratic spirit. Pianist Ronnie Matthews and bassist Dwayne Burno each contribute infectious original tracks. Justin Robinson delivers plenty of hot sax playing, but his most memorable moment here may be his sweetly floating flute solo on “Trust.” Drummer Willie Jones III holds it down tight over all types of rhythms and drills home fantastic solos. Trombonist Slide Hampton guests on three tracks, notably Matthews’ “Salima’s Dance,” where his solo seems to attack the music from its harmonic flank before breaking it wide open.
The democratic spirit also serves Hargrove well with his even bigger band, the RH Factor, which sounds better than ever on Distractions. Occasionally, on its debut, Hard Groove, and the follow-up EP, Strength, the Factor would become lost in wispy neosoul meanderings or overlong funk jamming; here, Hargrove lets his grooves build up a head of steam but cuts them off just quickly enough to leave you wanting more.
Renee Neufville, who first appeared with the RHes on Strength, wrote or cowrote four tracks and handles most of the vocal duties here, and she shifts adeptly between jazzy agility on “Crazy Race,” soul crooning on “Family” and freaky funk choruses on the infectious stomper “Hold On.” Hargrove played in neosoulster D’Angelo’s band for his Voodoo tour, and D’Angelo returns the favor by producing and singing on the rugged, loping “Bullshit,” where scratching of the titular bovine expletive (from Gang Starr’s hip-hop classic “DWYCK”) cheekily rebuts his pleas that he just wants to be with you. And throughout, improvisations give the grooves some additional life, whether keyboard murmurs on “Family” or conflagrations like the ones Hargrove and keyboardist Bobby Sparks ignite on “Distractions 4.”
There is certainly a gap between the quintet and the RH Factor, but it’s bridged by Hargrove’s talent; on both Nothing Serious and Distractions, he gives talented musicians room to do their thing, creates a cohesive sound and (last but not least) plays his ass off on the trumpet. Whatever direction his music may take in the future, those virtues will make any new Hargrove recording an exciting event.