A new musical vision for ace jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove has manifested itself in the form of Hard Groove. This neo-soul/jazz project showcases Erykah Badu, Common, D'Angelo, Marc Cary, and jam band icon saxophonist Karl Denson on a 14-track set that is laden with funk, groove, freestyle rap poetry, and sultry hip-hop/R&B mood swings. Hargrove's interesting horn and keyboard improvisations stem from extensive knowledge of each musician's work and, perhaps even more importantly, from close personal friendships developed as an underground club jam session warrior in N.Y.C. He also plays flügelhorn and percussion, and adds background vocals on several compositions. Opening with "Hardgroove," the set eases into a groove that is skillfully combined with Hargrove's meticulous riffs and segues into the band's free interpretation of an all-out jam session. "Common Free Style" is just that, a free rap session crammed with intimate details. This team-up works, and Common's prose style is exemplary in his choice of words and inspiring atmosphere. As one of the ladies who sings with the band, Grammy-winning Erykah Badu presents a valuable addition to the literature of hip-hop and jazz on several levels. On "Poetry," her rap is an entertaining and unpretentious chronicle of knowing the way to go in life, recounted with honesty and sincerity. Overall, Roy Hargrove has evolved as a hipper version of himself and given his listeners an entirely new musical direction than that heard on his Grammy-winning release Habana or his sensuous ballad recording Moment to Moment. Hard Groove is simply an exploration of his multidimensional musical attributes and his belated recognition of years of "open-eared moonlighting." In any case, the ultra-hip trumpeter manages not to alienate his die-hard jazz fans by intersecting with many of the icons of hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Paula Edelstein