At last, this highly touted, heretofore conservative Young Lion makes his move beyond neo-bop toward something new, fresh, and potentially important. He had to go to Havana to find it, starting with some jam sessions with Cuba's Los Van Van dance band in February 1996, which led to the formation of an exciting ten-piece U.S./Cuban band called Crisol. True, this album is a somewhat subdued recorded debut; as heard at the Playboy Jazz Festival in June 1997, Crisol is obviously capable of real thermal combustion. But one can still hear the embryo of its complex fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythm, bop, and progressive jazz impulses on this disc. Hargrove himself still seems dazzled by his new discovery, groping a bit for direction in his own solos. But challenged by the asymmetrical rhythms, he takes more chances and jaggedly strikes some fire. Irakere's Chucho Valdes, an awesome pianist and progressive-minded musician, is one of the anchors of the band, and Russell Malone contributes some of his meatiest, most driven guitar work. The tune that remains most indelible in the memory is trombonist Frank Lacy's "O My Seh Yeh," which opens and closes the CD in neat, bookended fashion. But the most promising track is a smoking arrangement of Kenny Dorham's "Afrodisia," where the heat of this cross-cultural exchange rises well above room temperature. One can only hope that U.S. and Cuban politicos will forego their usual roadblocks and allow these meetings to continue.
AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell