Old/New Albums: The RH Factor’s “Hard Groove”

hardgrooveEverybody needs a little more funk in their life. I recommend you get it with this album. The RH Factor is one of many bands led by Roy Hargrove, a trumpet/flugelhorn player who has played with legends of old and new generations for nearly 30 years. Many of his other group configurations are geared more heavily towards straightforward quartet/quintet jazz, but The RH Factor definitely has its own distinct flavor.

This album has got funk and soul music’s fingerprints all over it. With a shot of hip hop thrown in for good measure, all coalescing into this funky bed for Hargrove’s jazzy grooves to rest upon. There isn’t anything too upbeat here, it’s all pretty relaxed and deep in the pocket.

And absolutely gorgeous. The grooves Hargrove and his players find are so smooth and dirty at the same time. They are all very open, allowing all musicians involved to really stretch out. And while I can’t get enough of this, this aspect is what might turn some listeners off to repeated listens. There could be sections that could’ve been slightly tightened up, or at least shrunk down a bit.

But paring down always comes at a risk. The album opener is a great example of this. “Hardgroove” starts out so low and is just built upon, each musician adding their own voice as the song progresses. For a song that starts out with the simplest guitar riff, it really gets crazy by the 4th minute. Horns on top of horns, bass, guitar and drums, all creating this elaborately controlled cacophony.

Again, I freak out about how good this is. But it’s the fusion-ey open spaces that aren’t necessarily the most accessible to the casual listener. I’m thinking about “Out Of Town” and “Pastor ‘T.'”

But then many casual listeners are not going to be in love with a straightforward jazz quintet either. This album has great give and take between creating funky, soulful grooves that any jazz musician would love soloing over. It hits the bullseye on what a good fusion blend can sound like.

I am predisposed to love this album though, based on the nature of its conception. Roy Hargrove was one of the musicians involved in creating D’Angelo’s Voodoo record, during the height of the Soulquarian musical movement. Everybody was playing on everybody else’s record, musicians were coming and going between sessions, musicians were trading songs (most notably, D’Angelo and Common traded “Chicken Grease” for “Geto Heaven Part Two”), and this atmosphere of unity, creativity and musical experimentation was being fostered. Hard Groove is a reflection of that musical spirit. Many of the Soulquarians were involved in this album’s recording, and you can feel their vibe all the way through the slightly more jazz-inclined flavor of this record.

This feeling of a funky offshoot of the Soulquarian sessions is most evident in one of my favorite tracks, “I’ll Stay” featuring D’Angelo. This is a cover of a Funkadelic tune from 1974, and for this reason it possesses much of the spirit of Voodoo and by extension, the Soulquarians.

During the recording of Voodoo, D’Angelo and the Soulquarians would spend hours jamming through entire albums of their musical heroes, the Yodas of their musical upbringing. Sly & The Family Stone, Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, and so on. It was in these loose and organic jam sessions that song ideas would sprout and blossom into what you hear on Voodoo.

“I’ll Stay” is a perfect example of what that; what happens what genius musicians get together and make music. It is a slow burn song, stretching past 7 minutes. Starts slow and stays slow, but the song finds its groove early, and spends the rest of its time really sinking into this gritty stew of funk and blues and soul. And it’s absolutely amazing. It’s cold-blooded and dirty, like a swampy love letter to a woman who’s done you wrong. My face has a physical reaction to this groove. I make guitar faces even if I’m not playing along. That’s how powerful this tune is.

So I’m crazy about this whole album. This is maybe the first record of my Old/New Albums series that I’ve actively fallen in love with. If you can find it, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. “Juicy”
  2. “I’ll Stay” – Featuring D’Angelo
  3. “Liquid Streets”
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