Texan Trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s “RH Factor” band/project was one of the most interesting and consistent funk projects of the ’00s. Hargrove has made a name for himself as a trumpet leader who performs music in a wide variety of contexts. He won a Grammy in 1998 with his Afro Cuban band, Crisol, and participated in D’Angelo’s seminal funky neo-soul classic, “Voodoo.” “On the One” is a bumping, hand clapping summertime funky song, perfect for both twilight dance scenes filmed with old 8mm camera’s at summertime cookouts and driving down the cost. The song is written and sung by RH Factor vocalist and keyboardist Renee Nuefville. Nuefville is the RH Factor vocalist but she was also a member of the great ’90s group Zhane.
The tune establishes it’s dreamy summertime feel right from the start with an 8 bar intro that sets up the mood. The drums hit softly on the kick drum for all four beats of the measure, as the bass riffs very melodic lines. A clavinet is also in play, delivering very vocal, wah wah accented rhythmic lines. The main feature is a little melodic fragment, very syncopated and sing songy, played on a keyboard, that sets up a call and response relationship with a musician on the flute. The pattern is only three notes, played in a syncopated rhythm, with the keyboard playing and the flute echoing the phrase in the next bar. This cheerful, melodic, almost Seaseme Street like phrase will recur throughout the song. It also gives one a feeling of the sun on a bright new day, which is made clear when Nuefville begins her vocals, “It’s a new day”.
Once the song has woken up so to speak, it wakes up with a thunderous funk swagger. The drum beat hits with simple, solid, steady, two and four drumming, supported by a rarity now days, real live hand claps. The bass line is a beauty, and the anchor of the song. It’s a monsterous classic ascending funk pattern, playing a stomping ascending line in one bar, and a sparser, accenting pattern in the second and final bar of the phrase. This bass line does not change for the song, simply dropping in and out during certain dreamy sections. The combination of the bass line, handclaps and keyboard tones all intensify the summer time swagger of the song. One of the textures that makes RH Factor unique and different from the typical R&B production you’d hear on the radio is the support and comping of Roy Hargrove’s trumpet. Hargrove plays around Nuefville’s vocals, blowing supporting riffs and tones, in the tradition of Louis Armstrongs comping with Bessie Smith. It reminds me of Miles Davis saying he didn’t play “over” a singer, rather playing a little before or a little after the singer delivers their line. Nuefville sings a song of a relationship that is a bit astray, going through problems of communication. Periodically, the groove lets up to uncover the dreamy, wistful summer time flavor, at which point Nuefivlle says, “I really miss the days I used to talk to you.” Her solution? “Drop it on the One.”
“On the One” is interesting for using the funk terminology of “On the one” in a romantic context. Most of us of a certain age remember Malcom Jamal Warner as Theo’s phrase of “Jamming on the One” on the classic episode of The Cosby Show featuring the great Stevie Wonder. And we know “The One” is the key beat in funk, and the centerpiece of the musics ability to capture hearts and booties, upheld primarily by James Brown. George Clinton expanded the metaphor from music into a call for social harmony, and here Rene Neufville and the RH Factor bring that into the specific context of a harmonious relationship.
Hargrove plays some brash trumpet calls around 3:17 into the song, making you think he’s going to play a flame throwing trumpet solo, but instead, mellowing out into trumpet riffs that support the overall groove. One of the interesting things about playing funk for jazz musicians, is that the service of a groove requires even more humility than the group improvisations of jazz often times. Jazz rhythm section people might be used to this, but the trumpet by its nature is an instrument that stands out. Hargrove however, has no problem on the RH Factor recordings sublimating his horn to the groove, as he does beautifully on the fadeout of “On the One”. The song vamps out for two minutes on the end, and Hargrove plays both harmonized horn parts and beautiful, softly blown melodies.
“On the One” is a very special song that merges a great feel good, get down groove with a wistful, romantic song of longing, and resolution of that longing. The RH Factor proves itself to be a very unique and versatile group with the ability to communicate in multiple ways, both musically and lyrically. Very soon after clearing the space to listen to this song, you may very well find yourself “On the One.”