Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tribeca ’22: Hargrove

Roy Hargrove was considered one of the “Young Lions” because he was anointed by Wynton Marsalis, but he was one of the first big jazz headliners to collaborate with hip hopers, at a time when Marsalis was especially critical of their aesthetic. Hargrove always stayed true to his own musical conceptions, like all true jazz artists, but he died too soon, again like far too many jazz greats. Eliane Henri followed the musician during his final international tour, documenting what would be his last days in Hargrove, which screens as part of Tribeca at Home.

Clearly, we see Hargrove is a bit tired from the road during the opening scene. Eventually, we also learn his health was also ailing. The musician had been on dialysis for years. His doctors wanted him to get a kidney transplant, but he was reluctant, for financial and professional reasons, to take the time off. These scenes in which Hargrove talks about his health problems are eerily powerful, like the posthumous anti-smoking PSA Yul Brynner recorded when he was dying of cancer.

Of course, Hargrove’s music is also virtuosic, especially the beautiful way he could caress a ballad. However, none of Hargrove’s originals can be heard throughout the documentary, because his manager, Larry Clothier (who remains in charge of his music company), would not approve their release. That leads to one of the great issues with Henri’s doc.

Henri makes it very clear she and Clothier often clashed during the making of the film. The way she put together the film, it certainly looks like Hargrove sided with her in most matters. Arguably, this reflects the concerns that preoccupied the musician in his final days, but it ends up injecting her into the film. It is a more than a minor subplot—it is a major part of the doc.

Is this really the best way to introduce Hargrove to viewers who might be checking out Hargrove because of the involvement of his friends Questlove and Erykah Badu? Admittedly, this is a tricky terrain to navigate, but perhaps removing all traces of his manager might have been a better option.

The truth is the scenes of Henri and Hargrove arguing with Clothier have an awkward vibe that clashes with some really powerful scenes of personal reflection. Marsalis has a particularly haunting sequence in which he expresses regret for not intervening more forcefully with respects to Hargrove’s substance abuse issues (which may have been a contributing factor). It is a heavy moment.

In addition to Marsalis, Henri also includes commentary from many notable musicians, including Antonio Hart, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, Ralph Moore, and via audio, the truly legendary Sonny Rollins. It is also a gift to hear Hargrove’s solo improvisations, which are like ghostly codas to his great career. Even without his originals, you can get his talent and poetic musicality from the documentary’s best scenes. Recommended for jazz listeners and those who might have heard the musician’s work with Badu and D’Angelo,
Hargrove screens “at  home” through 6/18, as part of this year’s Tribeca.