Tom Harrell CD NUMBER FIVE reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Tom Harrell. NUMBER FIVE. High Note.

(Tom Harrell, trumpet and Flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery, tenor sax; Danny Grissett, piano, Fender Rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums).

This is album #5 with High Note for Harrell and the Quintet (#25 of Harrell’s career). The numerical title also denotes a degree of abstraction (‘free blowing’) in the music, especially “GT”. Harrell maintains more than ever “free”-dom in this set by performing without rehearsal on “Journey to the Stars,” “The Question,” “Preludium,” “Present,” and half of the title track. You can feel the spontaneity, but there’s no lack of structure either.

Other innovations here. This is Harrell’s first album to share his compositions with other’s writing. He bounces out of the gate with a free take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue ‘N’ Boogie,” unwinding virtuosic scale-runs fast, articulate and smooth, accompanied only the rattle of Johnathan Blake’s kit. Harrell goes totally a cappella, getting intimate with Tadd Dameron’s “A Blue Time,” and Don Raye and Gene DePaul’s “Star Eyes,” 5⅓ minutes of gently-paced, intelligent lines, effortlessly delivered with pauses between riffs like the line ends of a poem in free verse with an occasional rhyme.

I loved Harrell’s tune “Journey to the Stars.” Danny Grissett’s piano winking out repeated arpeggios introduces the lonely, blue trumpet discoursing on interdependence. It’s astonishing how Harrell’s horn somehow appears in its own space among a constellation of other timbres—the new-agey piano and an embroidery of overdubbed muted trumpets.

“Presents” is another lovely highlight of this album. The liquid blips of Grissett’s Fender Rhodes slides under Harrell’s tender and blue flugelhorn blowing a dissonant melody that almost lets go into lyricism, like Joe Williams’ “My One and Only You, ” but is flattened at the tips.

“Right as Rain” evidences duo-work (found also on “Preludium”) with Harrell’s horns and Wayne Escoffery’s tenor sax singing in unison or weaving among each other’s changes smooth as sea-horses.  In the swinging “No.5” everyone gets plenty of spotlight, especially Escoffery whose solos cut like safe-cracking tools—drill and acetylene torch.

“GT” features the piano playing like  small animals, maybe ferrets, on the forest floor with Ugonna Okegwo’s bass moving spookily in the dark like a post-bop wraith backlit in the crackle of percussion snaking through the underbrush.

Altogether, Number Five exudes a shimmer Harrell fans will cherish, and if you are not hep yet, get over here.

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