With the skill and finesse of a sonic surgeon Tom Harrell does a sonic exploratory on and within his stellar quintet. Harrell disects the incredibly talented members of this ensemble and the ensemble concept by reinventing himself and approach to his expansive sonic color palettes and use of practical theory. Number Five is the aptly titled release for Harrell's fifth outing on the consistently inventive and high quality HighNote label.
Brilliant. Genius. These are sometimes words used far to often by critics to the point where they lose all significance of meaning. Harrell's music and especially with HighNote stands on it's own merit with very little needing to be said when it comes to the blantantly obvious. Harrell's own philosophy sums the release up best, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Instead Harrell's stroke of musical genius is to simply show us how the pieces fit together. A far reaching release that has the quintet moving deeper into some of the most evocative compositions released to date while oddly enough shying away from a release full of Harrell originals. There are some sonic flashbacks that are more than memorable and noticeable here including "Journey To The Stars" which is a reprise of the Roman Nights duet with magnificent pianist Danny Grissett. "Right As Rain" is a brief but powerful ballad with a keen sense of interplay between Harrell and the gifted saxophonist Wayne Escoffery who is the perfect yin to the yang of Harrell. Two additional tracks "No. 5" and "Melody In B Flat" seem almost tailored to fit Escoffery's perfect tone and ability to swing as few can. Drummer Johnathan Blake swings like a beast on the opener "Blues 'N Boogie" while rock steady and often under appreciated bassist Ugonaa Okegwo shines on "GT" which is a slightly more eclectic approach to the free jazz sound that could easily wind up in the self indulgent file but with the help of a smoking Wayne Escoffery solo is transformed into accessible sonic magic
There are only four pieces that serve to feature the quintet in their entirety while the other seven pieces are variations of the ensemble exploring different and highly divergent sonic paths. Releasing anything better than The Time Of The Sun would have originally been what I would have considered an impossible task. I was reminded that a release is merely a snapshot of an artist at a particular moment in time.
Tom Harrell and his quintet have managed to encapsulate the grandeur of simple expression and harness the synergy of their relationship into deep and meaningful presentation that represents the growth as well as the simple beauty of the human spirit.
Tracks: Blue 'N' Boogie; Right As Rain; No.5; Journey To The Stars; GT; Present; Star Eyes; Preludium (Based on a theme by Vincent Persichetti); The Question; Melody In B Flat; A Blue Time.
Personnel: Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett: piano, fender rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.