In the liner notes, trumpeter Roy Hargrove declares that Earfood
was recorded to bring pleasure to the listener. This may seem like a superfluous statement, after all, which artist doesn't want to please the listening public? What Hargrove means, is that the aim of the game is to offer up catchy melodies with a minimum of unnecessary artistic baggage; tunes as opposed to ambience, sweet harmony in place of dissonance. There isn't a fractured rhythm within earshot, nor an obscure time signature, just unpretentious, good-time music.
Opening with pianist Cedar Walton's "I'm Not Sure," Hargrove and saxophonist Justin Robinson splice together Lee Morgan-type harmonies on the main theme, before Hargrove takes the first of several impressive solos with which he peppers the set. Robinson in turn picks up where Hargrove left off, followed by pianist Gerald Clayton and all unite on the head in classic old-school fashion. The up-tempo tunes mostly follow the same pattern.
Unapologetically, Hargrove's stated intention is to honor tradition, and the result at times is music which is overly familiar-sounding; the band do indeed sound like they know each other's moves inside out, and are comfortable with the well-trodden path of familiarity. This is not to take away from the excellent musicianship, for there is plenty to admire in this quintet, particularly from Hargrove and Robinson, it just makes for a rather slick and polished finished article.
Hargrove's voice comes from a long line of trumpeters from Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Morgan, to Miles and Marsalis and his command of the trumpet is complete; he demonstrates this control on the faster, boppish numbers, and a Wynton Marsalis-like tone on slower pieces like the lovely, self-penned "Joy is Sorrow Unmasked," an album highlight, which walks a delicate line between warm and blue.
Funking things up a tad on the late Weldon Irvine Jr's '70s classic "Mr. Clean," first Hargrove and then Robinson take fiery solos which seem to inspire Gerald Clayton to his most dynamic playing on the keys, while bassist Danton Boller and drummer Montez Coleman mark a steady groove. The song is crying out however, for some serious unleashing of the drums to take things to another level.
The track "Divine," pairs trumpet with piano in a mellow exchange over a subtle bass and brushes accompaniment, and the sparseness of the arrangement and economy of the playing contrasts pleasingly with all the brass harmonies, and head-solo-solo-solo-head which characterizes many of the tunes. It is a fine number, which showcases Hargrove's writing abilities. The Kurt Weil/Ogden Nash tune, "Speak Low" sounds like a coda to "Divine," and would have been the perfect closer to the disc. As it is, Earfood closes out with a soulful, buoyant, live rendition of Sam Cooke's "Bring it On Home To Me" which takes off from the first bar; Hargrove blows briefly in lively manner, and you'd expect some serious closing remarks from all, but alas, the tune parks itself just a little too soon.
For the ear, remember. For fun seekers.
I'm Not So Sure; Brown; Strasbourg/St. Denis; Starmaker; Joy is Sorrow Unmasked; The Singer; Rouge; Mr. Clean; Style; Divine; To Wisdom the Prize; Speak Low; Bring it on Home to Me.
Roy Hargrove: Trumpet and flugelhorn; Justin Robinson: alto sax and flute; Gerald Clayton: piano; Danton Boller: bass; Montez Coleman: drums.