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Music | JAZZ REVIEW

Grooves lead Hargrove and Scofield into a rut

August 22, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The most admired artists in jazz have not hesitated to flirt with pop music. But even when Louis Armstrong was singing pop ballads and Charlie Parker was surrounded by strings, the essentials of their art were always in place. There was never any sense that entertainment elements had taken precedence over creative choices.

Wednesday night's "The Edge of Jazz" program at the Hollywood Bowl chose a different path. Roy Hargrove's RH Factor ensemble started out promisingly with a bow in the direction of Miles Davis' electric voyages via a groove-driven "In a Silent Way." The group's set was also enhanced by a pair of warm-toned vocals from Rene Neufville. But the balance of the performance, emphasizing tunes from Hargrove's new album Hard Groove (which features, among others, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Q-Tip), found Hargrove's sterling trumpet wandering through a forest of backbeat rhythms and vamp-style harmonies.

Guitarist John Scofield's program was similarly dominated by funk rhythms and torpid harmonies. Scofield attempted to liven matters up from time to time with some squealing, rock-styled sounds. But for the most part, he simply abandoned his long-established creative inventiveness in favor of loose, unfocused rambling. (And what was he getting at when he noted that he was aiming his music up at the "cheap seats.")

Medeski, Martin & Wood, while underscoring their jam-band qualities, also offered a bit more diversity, ranging from quirky avant-garde sounds and soul grooves to a surprisingly gentle bossa nova.

For the most part, however, this was an evening in which calculated efforts to reach younger audiences simply resulted in the dumbing down of the music of some fine jazz artists.

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