And so after a long and successful career during which he has seldom been seen or heard in anything other than small–group environs (except for long–ago gigs with the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman orchestras), trumpeter / flugelhornist / composer Tom Harrell has come out of the closet, so to speak, to acknowledge that he has really been an ardent big–band enthusiast since he was a pup. Hey, good for him! Good for us, too, as Harrell has been writing and squirreling away terrific big–band charts for around 35 years, presumably saving them for a special occasion, and here it is — Harrell’s first full–fledged recording as a big–band impresario. Five of the eight arrangements date to the ’60s, and most have been recorded over the years by smaller groups. They include “Shapes,” which first appeared on saxophonist Bob Berg’s album New Births ; “Time’s Mirror” and “Train Shuffle,” both of which have been recorded by Phil Woods; and “Sao Paulo,” written in 1968 for a San Francisco–based sextet. Harrell’s other original, “Daily News,” is complemented by his sparkling arrangements of Charlie Parker’s bop classic, “Chasin’ the Bird,” and the Johnny Mercer standards “Autumn Leaves” and “Dream.” Harrell writes as he plays, with the warmth and lyrical awareness of a Chet Baker, thoroughly plausible for one who numbers Duke Ellington and Gerald Wilson among his leading influences. Even in their most explosive moments, his charts are always elegant and shapely with persuasive counterpoint and lovely voicings. They are reminiscent in many ways of those penned by another closet big–band champion, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, whose superb album, Little Man, Big Band, was released about seven years ago. A word now about Harrell’s orchestra, in whose ranks are some of the New York City area’s most talented musicians. The Davises, Xavier and Kenny, and drummer Carl Allen make up a stellar rhythm section, while dependable Earl Gardner leads the trumpets, Herwig presides over an all–star trombone section, and the woodwinds are as full–bodied and synchronous as one could wish. Harrell is the main soloist on trumpet (“Chasin’ the Bird,” “Sao Paulo”) or flugel (“Shapes,” “Daily News,” “Time’s Mirror,” “Train Shuffle”), but others have their exemplary moments too with Gardner featured on “Dream” and tenor Foster on “Autumn Leaves.” Foster solos effectively on “Shapes,” as do Allen and Xavier Davis, with the pianist heard again on “Chasin’ the Bird,” “Sao Paulo” and “Time’s Mirror,” altos Gross on “Sao Paulo” and Bailey on “Train Shuffle,” trombonist Herwig on “Train Shuffle” and tenor Braden on “Shuffle” and “Time’s Mirror.” Braden and Xavier Davis are members of the leader’s working quintet. Harrell says he hopes the release of Time’s Mirror “will lead to more big–band concerts,” adding that he’s working to secure more bookings and would like to take the ensemble on tour next year. That would be a marvelous way to welcome the new century, and we hope that Harrell’s dazzling big band may soon be performing at a concert hall near you.
Tom Harrell, leader, trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Bailey, alto sax, flute; Mark Gross, alto sax, clarinet; Alex Foster, tenor sax, flute; Don Braden, tenor sax; David Schumacher, baritone sax; Earl Gardner, Joe Magnarelli, Chris Rogers, David Weiss, James Zollar, trumpet, flugelhorn; Conrad Herwig, Mike Fahn, Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Douglas Purviance, bass trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Carl Allen, drums.