There is great irony, but even greater triumph, in the fact that Tom Harrell has long been diagnosed with schizophrenia and yet has still established himself as one of the most reliably high-caliber trumpeters, composers and bandleaders in all of jazz. Since emerging from a four-year hiatus in 2007, he has delivered four albums of all-original material, all while keeping his superb quintet intact.
The Time of the Sun edges out Prana Dance as the best of the lot, despite a noble failure on the opening title track that utilizes magnetic sounds from the sun’s outer atmosphere — a nifty idea with a slightly off-putting tonality. Ultimately, it doesn’t dent the inimitable identity Harrell’s quintet continues to forge and expand, one that alternately roils and streamlines spunky hard bop and spongy funk with a dollop of rock-ish fusion, all of it coated by Harrell’s lyrical command of his midtempo melodies.
As impressive as tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery sounds scuffing the corners on his driving solos, or Danny Grissett’s galvanizing rhythm on his Fender Rhodes, Harrell’s cerebral swing — difficult to describe but instantly recognizable once you’ve heard his past few discs — is the signature sound of The Time of the Sun. Add the powerhouse drumming of Johnathan Blake and the polestar time-keeping of Ugonna Okegwo, and you’ve got a band that brandishes bebop with the playful panache of Phil Woods and the eminent soulfulness of Horace Silver, Harrell’s mentors before he struck out on his own.
There is much to recommend in nearly every song, but for context, sample the striving funky-bop flow of “Ridin’,” with Escoffery ripping off chunks of rhythm on tenor and Blake elevating the groove like a trampoline with his tom-toms, and then catch the almost-reggae tropicalia of “Cactus,” with its comping staccato that yields to beauty from Harrell and Grissett. This is an ensemble on the prowl.