Tom Harrell, Number Five

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 06.04.12 in Reviews

Number Five

Tom Harrell

The numerical title here refers to this being the fifth album by Tom Harrell’s working quintet, currently among the handful of the best small ensembles in all of jazz. Ironically, the entire group performs on only four of 11 tracks, a departure from their previous discs. Fans of the sharp insights and dulcet tones Harrell brings to the trumpet and flugelhorn will cherish how much his playing is featured here — a pair of bop standards, “Star Eyes” and Tadd Dameron’s “A Blue Time,” are pure solo Harrell, while the opening Dizzy Gillespie track, “Blue ‘N’ Boogie,” is a spunky, hep-jive duet between Harrell and Johnathan Blake’s peripatetic drumming.

A departure from their previous discs

But my favorite of these group-within-the-group numbers is the wafting duet between Harrell and Danny Grissett on Fender Rhodes for “Journey to the Stars,” which exudes a fragile aura without diminishing its shimmering celestial grandeur. Grissett’s Fender again beautifully primps up a feathery texture alongside Blake’s brushwork on “Present.” And the ballad “Right as Rain” finds Harrell and tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery creating the sonic approximation of that misty gauze that cloaks the air when the precip is soft at dawn or dusk.

So where are Harrell-quintet burners that fans of this band rightfully crave? Few and far between unfortunately, and one, the slightly knotty, more “outside” tune, “GT,” doesn’t cohere despite Blake’s nonstop energy. But “Melody In B-flat” is superb, with Escoffery finally getting the chance to rollick, beginning his phrases with straightforward note-jabs before looping down and coming up from below. Harrell follows with one of his lyricism-on-speed signature solos and the band — all five — take it home.