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One of modern music's most acclaimed trumpeters, Tom Harrell has made the most out of his major label status. His two previous efforts for RCA, Labyrinth and The Art of Rhythm, brought the 53-year-old a good deal of critical attention and the major distribution network possible to reach a greater audience. However, as heavily lauded as he remains for his trumpet work, many are still asleep on his accomplished undertakings as a writer and arranger. This is due to change in a New York minute with the release of Time's Mirror, the trumpeter's new project for BMG and one that finds him fronting a large ensemble filled with the cream of the crop of today's contemporary players.
A challenging new assignment, this marks the first time Harrell has put on tape what amounts to a big band session. He's provided all the charts and a number of original compositions, many of them going back as far as the '60s, and through these moments one gets a more tangible picture of Harrell's influences and predilections. For instance, the newly-composed "Daily News" sports a jagged melody line redolent of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance." Both the opening "Shapes" and the title track suggest a shrewd awareness of the music of fellow trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, with their resonant and full brass scoring and a yearning sentiment of melancholia. Yet these are mere reference points and ultimately Harrell's writing, particularly on the infectious "Train Shuffle," takes on a life of its own.
As strong as the writing is, solo work from Harrell and the others is of a high caliber, girded ever so tastefully by the trumpeter's poetic use of supporting lines. In fact, the liners mention Harrell's gratitude to bassist Sam Jones, with whom he led a big band in the late '70s, in terms of integrating solos and the written backgrounds. Harrell's regular pianist, Xavier Davis, Don Braden, and Conrad Herwig are standouts in terms of their solo spots and this tight ensemble, some 17 strong, manages to nail Harrell's charts with a precision that belies their relative difficulty.
Benefiting from the healthy gestation period that many of these tunes went through, Time's Mirror is a fine illustration of where Harrell is at currently in terms of his writing and trumpet playing. It's his most complete recorded statement yet to appear and hopefully it's a harbinger of more like-minded projects to come.
Track Listing: Shapes, Autumn Leaves, Daily News, Dream, Chasin' the Bird, Sao Paulo, Time's Mirror, Train Shuffle (50:40)
Personnel: Tom Harrell- trumpet; Craig Bailey- alto saxophone & flute; Mark Gross- alto saxophone & clarinet; Alex Foster- tenor saxophone & flute; Don Braden- tenor saxophone; David Schumacher- baritone saxophone; Earl Gardner- lead trumpet; 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
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.