Acclaimed trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Roy Hargrove realizes a lifelong dream with the August 25th release of Emergence (Groovin' High/Emarcy), his first big band album. Nineteen pieces strong, Hargrove's ensemble is a vibrant and versatile group, tackling a wide range of material and styles with equal doses of precision and passion. "Financially speaking, this is probably the worst thing I could ever do," says Hargrove, "but it is something that needs to be done, spiritually and musically speaking."
The seeds of Emergence were planted in 1995, when Hargrove first formed a big band for a New York jazz festival. His big band concept grew as he led the evolving group through a series of regular gigs at the Jazz Gallery, a not-for-profit performance space in lower Manhattan - which proved an invaluable for both Hargrove and the musicians who participated. "The Jazz Gallery is for up-and-coming young players," Hargrove explains. "I go around to jam sessions a lot, sit in with cats, and I think that the new generation doesn't have a lot of experience playing in sections and playing in big bands. So this provides younger guys with a sense of camaraderie that is not really evident anymore in jazz."
The lineup solidified into the group showcased on the eleven tracks of Emergence, which features Hargrove on trumpet, flugelhorn, and a rare lead vocal (on the standard "September in the Rain") alongside four other trumpet players (Frank Greene, Greg Gisbert, Darren Barrett, Ambrose Akinmisure), four trombonists (Jason Jackson, Vincent Chandler, Saunders Sermons, and Max Seigel on bass trombone), five reedists (Bruce Williams, alto saxophone and flute; Justin Robinson, alto and flute; Norbert Stachel, tenor sax and flute; Keith Loftis, tenor and flute; and Jason Marshall, baritone sax and flute), and the rhythm section of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Danton Boller, guitarist Saul Rubin, drummer Montez Coleman and percussionist Roland Guerrero. Vocalist Roberta Gambarini (named "Rising Star Female Vocalist of the Year" in Downbeat's 2009 Critic's Poll) contributes two affecting performances. The album's repertoire boasts an accomplished and refreshing mix of original compositions (from both Hargrove and his bandmates), standards, and favorites from outside writers. Stylistically, the music ranges from furious swingers to majestic ballads to rollicking Latin jams.
Since his own emergence in the late '80s, Hargrove has proved to be an adventurous and wide-ranging artist, proudly immersed in the jazz tradition and yet continually striking out for new terrain. Among his groups include the straight-ahead, hard-bop Roy Hargrove Quintet and Crisol, an Afro-Cuban ensemble that won a Grammy in 1998 for Best Latin Jazz Performance with its album Habana. With the funk-oriented RH Factor, Hargrove released the 2003 album Hard Groove, featuring guest appearances by R&B superstars Erykah Badu, Common and D'Angelo. His last album, 2008's quintet session Earfood (Groovin' High/Emercy), was featured in dozens of year-end Top 10 lists.
Hargrove's big band, which cites the large bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, and Gerald Wilson as key influences, has already been showcased at the Hollywood Bowl and SummerStage in New York's Central Park. "The small group has been such a big deal for so long in jazz that people forget where the small groups came from," says Hargrove. "There's nothing like the feeling you get when you're hearing your compositions and arrangements played by a wall of sound. I'm just trying to make some music that's fun to hear and play."
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