From the cigar band across the cover of the compact disc to the inclusion of Cuban pianist and leader Chucho Valdes, as well as the title itself, Roy Hargrove's change in direction toward irresistible dance music in the Afro-Cuban tradition has fans all over wondering, "Is this for real?" Yes, it certainly is, and the appearance of his band Crisol at major jazz festivals has spread the message. Crisol, which means "melting pot," includes Valdes, conguero Miguel "Anga" Diaz, drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez, and timbalero Jose Luis "Changuito" Quintana from Cuba. Rounding out the lineup are proven straight-ahead jazz artists Frank Lacy on trombone, Russell Malone on guitar, David Sanchez on tenor and soprano saxophones, John Benitez on bass, and Gary Bartz on alto and soprano saxophones. Additionally, because they (fortunately) happened to be appearing at the winter festival in Orvieto, Italy, when the recording took place, special guests on Habana are pianist John Hicks, bassist Jorge Reyes, and drummer Idris Muhammad.
Hargrove, who was turned on to the music of Clifford Brown by his high school Algebra teacher, considers Brown's virtuosity and warm sound a big influence. Working in his late teens with Woody Shaw, James Morrison, Frank Morgan, Jimmy Owens, Clifford Jordan, and Barry Harris, the trumpeter developed a post-bop approach that has resulted in more than ten albums as a leader in the past eight years. Habana's change in direction is merely a growth pattern, since the trumpeter has always respected the Afro-Cuban big band work of Dizzy Gillespie. Hargrove organized his New York City big band several years ago; the big band included Crisol members Lacy, Sanchez, and Malone.
Standouts on the album include Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas" and "Afrodisia," which feature both Hargrove's warm trumpet and Bartz's spirited alto sax. Malone delivers a loose, blues-oriented guitar solo on the latter that recalls his recent appearance in the film Kansas City. Frank Lacy's "O My Seh Yeh" and Gary Bartz's "Nusia's Poem" account for a World Music approach that combines contemporary sounds with the traditional. Chucho Valdes' "Mr. Bruce" and "Mambo For Roy" offer the up-tempo big band fire that one would expect from such a lineup, based in both New York City and Havana. It's a stylistic change-up for trumpeter Roy Hargrove, but successful, and proof that the trumpeter is capable of following his instincts. Highly recommended.