Despite the nonchalance of its title, Nothing Serious may be Roy Hargrove's best disc yet. The first working band outing by the genre-leaping trumpeter since 1993's Of Kindred Souls features a cohesive quintet with alto saxophonist Justin Robinson, pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Willie Jones III, augmented on three selections by special guest trombonist Slide Hampton.
The opening title track, composed by Venezuelan guitarist Leo Quintero, is a melodious Latin jazz tour de force with powerful solos by the always lyrical Hargrove, along with Robinson (employing a thick, convincing Dolphyesque tone) and the veteran Mathews, whose mastery of the Afro-Cuban idiom pushes the music to its highest level, particularly during his montuno section, where the horns riff and Jones thrashes with inspired abandon.
Hampton joins the band for his "A Day In Vienna first recorded with Dexter Gordona straight-ahead cooker with a harmonic richness reminiscent of Horace Silver. Hargrove's "Trust is an evocative ballad constructed of long legato lines and warm harmonies, with stirring solos by Burno, Robinson (flute) and the composer (flugelhorn).
"Camaraderie, a second Hargrove original, opens ominously with a dissonant free-form introduction featuring a trumpet-saxophone dialogue over drums, before resolving into a hot boppish blowing section. Burno's "Devil Eyes, a genuinely innovative, daring reharmonization of the standard chord changes to "Angel Eyes framed with a vamp that recalls the introduction to Stevie Wonder's "Too High, inspires exciting solos by Robinson, Hargrove and Jones.
"The Gift is an attractive line by Hargrove which abounds with beauty and drama, eliciting passionate playing from each of the group's members. Mathews' potent "Salima's Dance, first recorded by the pianist back in the late '70s, is more than worthy of revival. Hargrove lets loose on this modal composition with his most incendiary solo of the date, followed by Robinson, Hampton and the composer, each one equally electrifying. A series of exchanges with Jones and a collective improvisation by the horns drive the music to a compelling climax.
A swinging sextet version of "Invitation closes this satisfying session, which may not seem very "serious" compared to today's many staid and sober recordings seeking the status of classical music. But it is certainly significant in its earnest documentation of a great set of joyous jazz.
Nothing Serious; A Day in Vienna; Trust; Camaraderie; Devil Eyes; The Gift; Salima's Dance; Invitation.
Roy Hargrove: trumpet, flugelhorn; Justin Robinson: alto saxophone, flute; Slide Hampton: trombone; Ronnie Matthews: piano; Dwayne Burno: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.