Tag Archives: Roy Hargrove

Old/New Albums: Dinah Washington’s “The Swingin’ Miss ‘D'”

dinahwashingtonMy finding this album is one of those gorgeously fortuitous circumstances where a string of seemingly unconnected events led me to this album. I’ll give you the truncated version:

In October, Colleen and I (and an in-utero Millie) were visiting our good friends Nicholi and Tiffany out in Seattle. We had one last night before heading home and we were running through things we could go do. Nic and Tiffany had researched a few options and one was see who was being featured in the month-long jazz festival. None of us being huge jazz fans, I honestly didn’t think it would happen since none of us would know who was playing.

Wouldn’t you know it, they are running through the list of performers that evening and The Roy Hargrove Quintet was one. I immediately flipped and we called for tickets. Fast forward to the show; we walk into this small, dark jazz club and get seated in a comfortable booth about 30 feet from the stage. I’ve written more about the show here, but let me say it was one of the very best live music experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of having.

Apologies, that really wasn’t that brief. Anyway, one of the songs that RHQ did was “Never Let Me Go.” In fact, if my memory serves me, it was the only song to which Roy Hargrove himself provided vocals. And it was gorgeous. He has such an unexpected voice, and it lent itself to the song so well and was just a heartbreaking song. Heading home, I knew I’d need to do some research on this tune.

Turns out, it’s a song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for the 1956 film “The Scarlet Hour.” I also found that it was done by the jazz singer Dinah Washington on her record The Swingin’ Miss “D”, released the same year as the film.

Dinah Washington was a name that was just barely on the periphery of my jazz knowledge, but getting to know this record has been wonderful. Her vocal tone has quite a warble to it, but it’s far more subtle than say, Snow White’s warble. It is perfectly suited for this orchestral jazz music.

Speaking of the music, look who else’s name is on the cover of the album. It’s one of my Top 5 Favorite Producers*: Quincy Jones. One of the coolest parts of this record is hearing Jones’ orchestra play such a fun array of big band jazz tunes.

The thing that really stuck out to me most is how intricately the musical parts are weaved together. Brass on top of strings on top of percussion on top of whatever else. Within each instrument section, he’s putting lines together that are so beautifully complementary. After hearing his orchestra, it’s fascinating to go back to an album like Thriller and realize that Q was able to produce, arguably, the best pop album of all time because of his work on decades-old albums like The Swingin’ Miss “D”.

While she might not be as immediately well-known as Billie or Ella, Dinah Washington holds her own in the vocal arena. If you fancy yourself a fan of ’40s/’50s big band standards, you’ll get a kick out of this album.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Never Let Me Go
  2. Every Time We Say Goodbye
  3. They Don’t Believe Me

*I quickly skimmed this 6-year old blog before I linked to it, and I need to qualify it by saying how out of date the list is. There is a great chance Kanye wouldn’t even make my Top 5 anymore, let alone be number 1. I should redo that list sometime.

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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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