Since the ‘80s, trumpeter and composer Tom Harrell has been an icon to scores of aspiring musicians and devoted fans, with an influence that has only been recently overshadowed by the appearance of Dave Douglas. Of course, Harrell and Douglas each have their own artistic visions, but it’s interesting to note that BMG now has both under contract. Is that a coup or what? But then we digress, so let’s get to Harrell’s latest endeavor, which is very different from anything he has previously tackled, revealing even more facets to his compositional genius.
In addition to his current working ensemble featuring pianist Xavier Davis and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, Harrell adds to the mix a string ensemble including two violins, two cellos, viola, and harp. Be warned, however, that this is not your usual “plus strings” affair; Harrell has integrated the strings in a way that makes them much more than just window dressing.
“Daybreak” is the most overtly swinging number and it starts off the disc. The strings then step in for “Baroque Steps,” a moody line with a tick-tock under girding and some rich harmony parts for the strings, not unlike Gary McFarland’s writing for a ‘60s project with the Steve Kuhn trio. Roaming on the lift provided by a delicate bossa groove, “Nighttime” finds Harrell on the prowl with flugelhorn in hand. “Wind Chant” and “Sunrise” get their added colors from the harp and Freddie Bryant’s guitar. And while the first part of “Morning Prayer” is purely classical in nature, the second section goes into a lively samba that is effortlessly supported by drummer Adam Cruz.
In the end, Harrell presents nine charts that change things up and go to new places that longtime fans are likely to embrace lock, stock, and barrel.