This is probably Tom Harrell’s most unusual work to date, and strictly speaking, the least "jazz"-oriented. Enlisting a string quintet and harp in addition to his regular jazz sextet, Harrell pushes his compositional and arranging chops to new levels, and continues to blow great trumpet. The sound of strings and jazz ensemble immediately calls to mind Ted Nash’s Double Quartet. But Harrell has his own approach to orchestration, and his own melodic trademarks. One could think of this album as a revisitation, in greater depth, of the chamber music vibe he first unveiled on 1996’s Labyrinth.
While some of these new compositions fall back on motives he’s used in the past, there are also new and bold elements. The agitated funk of "Wind Chant," for instance, is something of a departure for Harrell; the track is driven by wah-wah guitar from Freddie Bryant and features soaring improvisations by tenorist Jimmy Greene and pianist Xavier Davis. Another highlight is the impenetrably dark string chorale that constitutes part one of "Morning Prayer." Though he doesn’t strike gold with every tune ("Nighttime" and "Wishing Well" are a bit fluffy), Harrell often finds just the right orchestral color to illuminate the vision at hand. And the members of his sextet drive the best tracks ("Baroque Steps," "Sunrise") with bandstand-style energy.
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