The prevailing narrative on Roy Hargrove is like a roller coaster, full of twists and turns.
The Chicago-based trumpeter could have easily turned in the Grammy-winning 1997 album Habana with his Afro-Cuban band Crisol, gone to sleep for 15 years and cemented his place in modern jazz history. Instead, he hooked up with hip-hop producers Questlove and J. Dilla to became a key player in the nascent neo-soul movement, contributing to watershed albums like Common’s Like Water for Chocolate, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Two years later, he’d found the RH Factor, a swampy, funk-laden outfit, and in 2008 he released Earfood, an deep quintet release taking up prime real estate on many critics’ year-end lists.
Then, for the past five years, Hargrove hasn’t released even one new album.
Roller coasters also have ups and downs, and yeah, Hargrove this year has had some of those, too. After postponing dates in March, he returns this week to assign his narrative back in the skyward direction, and he brings an incredible quintet of Justin Robinson, Sullivan Fortner, Ameen Saleem and Quincy Phillips as rocket fuel. Funk, hard bop and lightning-fast playing propel Hargrove’s uptempo numbers, while on ballads, his embouchure is capable of pure silk.
More recent live performances have shown the Hargrove quintet in full force. When they return to Yoshi’s this week, well, it’s like Bette Davis said in All About Eve: Fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be a bumpy night.