Tom Harrell knows a lovely melody when he hears one, and has written several on his new album, Paradise, an ambitious enterprise that must have been a labor of love, as it is unlikely to earn the sort of recognition (Grammy Award nomination, etc.) he garnered with last year’s big–band release, Time’s Mirror. Which is not to say it’s less admirable than that one, only different. On Paradise, Harrell uses a core sextet augmented by strings to blend Jazz, classical and world music into a medley designed to arouse a variety of emotions from upbeat to melancholy. “In writing for Paradise, ” Harrell says, “I was especially inspired by the moods, intensity of emotions and total urgency of . . . the music of the Mediterranean. I have also been inspired by the Latin and Afro–Caribbean music I often hear in my [New York City] neighborhood.” Traces of all those influences can be heard here alongside harmonies and rhythms reminiscent of European Impressionism and Romanticism. That imprint is perhaps strongest on Part 1 of “Morning Prayer,” performed by a quartet comprised of two violins, viola and cello. The Jazz element, even though subdued, is almost always present, and there are shapely solos by Harrell (on trumpet or flugelhorn), tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, guitarist Freddie Bryant, pianist Xavier Davis and bassist Ugonna Okegwo. The most candid in that respect are the opening and closing numbers, “Daybreak” and “Sunrise.” As a player, Harrell is technically sound and naturally creative, but no more so than a number of his peers; it is his writing that sets him, and this album, apart from and above many others. In Paradise, he has planted a lovely garden of sound that one needn’t leave this world to appreciate.
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