Tom Harrell: Prana Dance (2009)
As he has in the past, Harrell layers his eight plain-spoken compositions with spiritual undertones, none of which detracts from his improvisational purpose or that of his comrades in his quintet. Harrell has always been an uncompromising melodicist, which is readily apparent on each of his invigorating themes, and his solos are similarly transparent, as are those of pianist Danny Grissettand saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. That's not to say they are insubstantial or lack staying power; to the contrary, they stand up quite well on repeated listening. Harrell, especially, shapes his solos with utmost care, focusing his assiduous gaze on a clear destination that he invariably reaches after a perceptive and pleasurable journey. Along the way, not a note is squandered.
Harrell's supporting cast is first-rate. Grissett and Escoffery are compatible albeit a tad more bluesy than the leader, which makes for a gratifying contrast in styles. Bassist Ugonna Okegwoand drummer Johnathan Blake are rock-solid if not especially animated, which does nothing to detract from the group's unfaltering coherence. In fact, they play their back-up roles to perfection.
If there is a downside, it lies mainly in the areas of tempo and sameness. Engaging as Harrell's tunes can be, they amble along at a generally symmetrical pace (save for the even-tempered "Sea Serpent," the album's lone quasi-ballad, which quickens the tempo in midstream). While each track is admirable on its own, there is not a wide degree of separation between them, nor can they be called hot and steamy. Harrell has a definite plan in mind, and it eschews stratospheric grandstanding or extravagant window dressing. Prana Dance is for those who prefer to listen as well as hear.
Track Listing: Marching; Prana; Sequenza; Maharaja; The Call; Ride; The Sea Serpent; In the Infinite.
Personnel: Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery: soprano, tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett: piano, Fender Rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.
Record Label: HighNote Records