Hip-hop used to be influenced by jazz. But in 2003, jazz is taking its cues from hip-hop. Still, trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s decision to include a high-profile cast of rap and neo-soul artists — along with some talented young jazz players — on his new album owes as much to a shared musical vision as a marketing strategy. All of the musicians on HardGroove are thankfully on the same page, which isn’t always the case with similar all-star collaborations.
Although perhaps better suited for cozy living-room sessions than sweaty dance floors, HardGroove is way mo’ funkier than most contemporary jazz albums. Still, a jazzy sensibility prevails throughout the uptempo progressions of “Out of Town,” the bluesy piano runs of “Liquid Streets,” and the smokin’ grooves of “The Joint.” Even the vocal tracks are rich in texture, like the nouveau torch of “Juicy,” featuring Stephanie McKay; a remake of the P-Funk classic “I’ll Stay,” enhanced by D’Angelo’s suave utterances; and “Poetry,” which teams Q-Tip’s abstract lyricisms with Meshell Ndegeocello’s basslines and Erykah Badu’s spacey spirituality.
Uniting the various branches of the black musical experience under one banner, Hargrove attempts to not only save jazz but redeem rap and R&B, all by channeling the funk. That he succeeds without being pretentious or predictable is one of the triumphs of HardGroove. In the process, various myths are dispelled (e.g. neo-soul as flavor of the month), while others are created (Hargrove as the new millennium’s Miles Davis). The bandleader’s trumpet sounds great with or without wah-wah, and he’s versatile enough to pick up a flugelhorn or bass on occasion. But his biggest achievement may have been making an album that’s immediately accessible, yet has enough depth to warrant listening to six months (or six years) down the line.
Roy Hargrove performs at Yoshi’s in Oakland, Thursday through Sunday. 510-238-9200.