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If Tom Harrell had written nothing more than “Sail Away” he’d still rank high on this writer’s personal list of notable Jazz composers. He didn’t stop there, of course, and seven of the eight songs that comprise this tasteful concert performance at New York’s Village Vanguard are his (the other is Matt Dennis / Tom Adair’s poignant “Everything Happens to Me,” played as a duet with pianist Xavier Davis).
Harrell’s compositions, as is usually the case, are consistently lyrical and sometimes introspective, leaning toward the romantic and away from the pretentious. In his capable hands, even the blues (“In Una Sa”) assume a light–hearted tenor. And speaking of tenors, Jimmy Greene proves an effective front–line partner, uncovering influences from Joe Henderson to Michael Brecker and George Coleman in his crisp and cogent post–bop phrasings. Pianist Davis continues to impress, as he has on other albums, and the same can be said of bassist Okegwo (who’s featured on “Manhattan, 3 a.m.”) and the “other” Davis, drummer Quincy, who with Okegwo provides an unerring rhythmic compass for the others to mark. When they’re not around (“Everything Happens”), Harrell and Davis play with such dexterity and warmth that one scarcely notices their absence. Then they’re back, and everyone digs in ardently to help make “Party Song” as convivial as its name implies.
The audience at the Vanguard seems greatly pleased by the concert, and indeed there’s nothing ungracious that one can say about it. On the other hand, hearing a live performance, no matter how enjoyable, isn’t quite the same as taking it home to make it a more permanent part of one’s musical experience. Even though the concert appeased my appetite for stylish small–group Jazz, I’m not quite sure it embodies enough nourishment to keep me coming back for more helpings. That’s something each listener must decide for himself. But it’s definitely worth one spin or even two.
Track Listing: Asia Minor; Manhattan, 3 a.m.; Where the Rain Begins; Blues in Una Sea; A Child
Personnel: Tom Harrell, trumpet; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Xavier Davis, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Quincy Davis, drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.