Roy Hargrove punctuates his sentences with this strange, quick, high-pitched giggle. It sounds almost like a chicken dying.
The jazz trumpeter is a real charmer, too. When told that his new album, The RH Factor: Hard Groove, is perhaps his best set to date, he emits that mildly annoying sound.
"You know what, brotha?" he says. "I made it just for you. It's all for you."
On Hard Groove, which hits stores Tuesday, the Texas native blurs the lines between musical genres with help from nearly 40 esteemed musicians. Among them: Hargrove's homegirl Erykah Badu and her beau, rapper Common; rapper Q-Tip; bassist-singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello; and pianist Bernard Wright. A richly organic melange, the CD throws together intelligent hip-hop, hard bop, stripped-down funk and blues. The album's title definitely fits as each cut rides a solid, smoked-out groove.
"I've been trying to do this kind of album for years," says Hargrove, calling from a studio in Manhattan. "I had to make sure that I had creative control, so that I could do everything I wanted to do musically. We went into Electric Lady [Jimi Hendrix's legendary New York studio] for two weeks and, boom, there it was."
For those who have been following Hargrove's 14-year recording career, Hard Groove is a bit of a departure. The 33-year-old musician has become a major talent in acoustic jazz, working with such legends as Sonny Rollins, Frank Morgan and Jackie McLean. Hargrove started his career as a fine if slightly tentative straight-ahead player. Handsome and self-assured, he sported the tailored look of the classic jazz man: silk ties and slacks with creases sharp enough to draw blood.
But recently -- in, say, the past four years, Hargrove has evolved into something a little more bohemian. You will hardly catch the dude in a suit. His gear these days consists of roomy pants and sneakers. Thick, mud-colored dreadlocks rain past his shoulders. He wears a rough goatee, and his music has become looser, more eclectic and experimental. In 1997, he won a Grammy for Habana, a spirited exploration of Cuban jazz.
Hargrove says, "The change was gradual -- from all the places I've been. Now I'm naked, you know, so to speak."
He was born in Waco, Texas, in 1969. Like all gifted musicians, he absorbed music before he could form words.
"When I was 3," Hargrove remembers, "my dad taught me how to work the reel-to-reel tape machine, and I knew, like, all the Temptations' songs. My dad and his friends would get together and play dominoes, you know. And they'd be playing all these blues and funk records, man. It's the South, so you know we gotta have some blues playing."
Hargrove's career began to gel while he was still in high school. Educator and fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis visited his performing arts school for a workshop. The jazz veteran recognized the young Texan's innate ability to swing and imbue his playing with what matters the most in jazz: soulful feeling. Marsalis invited Hargrove to sit in with his band, and he helped the teen-ager secure gigs with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock. Before high school graduation, Hargrove had gone to Europe and worked in Frank Morgan's band.
"I was all wide-eyed ... when I met all these great jazz cats in Europe," Hargrove says. "There was Dizzy, Yusef Lateef. They were like, 'Calm down, sonny.' I just revered them so much. They were so approachable, not like folks in the big light -- you know, pop folks. I thought they should have been in the big light, though."
Hargrove studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music but didn't stay long. He transferred to the New School in Manhattan in '89. At 19, he signed with Novus / RCA Records and released four critically lauded albums, beginning with 1989's Diamond in the Rough. A switch to the Verve label in 1995 marked a burst of vibrancy in Hargrove's music.
Although he has been in New York for 15 years, Hargrove is hardly ever home, "only to pack clothes," he says. Just like the typical jazz man, his hustle is on the road. And he's in and out of halls, clubs and studios throughout the year.
When he's not working on his own material, Hargrove makes contributions to other projects, the most recent being Shirley Horn's forthcoming disc May the Music Never End.
Hargrove hopes people hear beyond the danceable beats and seductive instrumentals on Hard Groove.
"This is a spiritual thing," he says. "There's a gospel feeling. I'm hoping folks will get good energy from it, that it takes them out of their bad mood. I also hope it encourages other musicians from different genres to come together more often."
There's that strange laugh again. "Imagine that," Hargrove says. "If all these pop folks, the jazz cats, the rock cats, funk, soul -- if we all got together and jammed. That would be wild, man. That'll be something."