Given Roy Hargrove’s chameleonic track record to date, having moved restlessly from a classic Miles-like acoustic quintet format to Afro-Cuban grooves to hip-hop-generation biz and back, one might suspect that his first big-band album is yet another casual addition to his expanding musical wardrobe. But, in fact, Hargrove has been working on—and workshopping—this project since 1995, mostly out of NYC’s Jazz Gallery. No doubt, that depth of involvement and passion for the medium are reasons Emergence comes out swinging, searching and cooing as assuredly at it does.
On the album, Hargrove keeps his cool and lets the band enjoy a loose camaraderie rather than going for a too-slick big-band approach. The leader also manages to incorporate various stylistic interests he has shown in the past, including a shuffling old-school blues chart (“Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey”), nods toward Cuba (Chucho Valdés’ “Mambo for Roy”), and ’60s-style modal musings (“Tschpiso,” arranged by pianist Gerald Clayton).
Subtler energies account for much of the album’s strongest moments, including the opening and closing bookends in the sequence, “Velera” and “Trust,” Hargrove originals featuring his glowing, burnished flugelhorn solos. Hargrove also works well in interactive dialogues with the wondrous vocalist Robert Gambarini, who lends her ample, post-Ella graces to a touching reading of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and acts as resident Cuban chanteuse on “La Puerta.” Hargrove himself offers up another first on the album, with a compact cameo as vocalist on “September in the Rain.” With this new yet lived-in, road-tested and fine-sounding project, Hargrove does himself and the marginalized big-band culture a big favor.