Roman Nights, trumpeter Tom Harrell's third release with his hardworking quintet of saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake, is an all-original set that maintains the highest standards of composition, small-group arranging and improvisation. Harrell is a paragon of restraint, each note carefully chosen, each phrase finely balanced, seducing with the sheer magnetism of his melodies, while Escoffery lets loose torrents of ideas that topple over each other with brassy bluster.
On "Let the Children Play," the tenor's serpentine lines are chock-a-block with inventive turns and exhaustively explored motifs as the trumpet's mellow, pure voice seems to imply as much with half the notes. Harrell's compositions range from the pared down melody of "Children" to the lyric beauty of the title track, leavened here and there with odd wrinkles, to the uneasy harmonic shifts of "Study in Sound" and "Harvest Song"'s strangely accessible mix of the foreign with the familiar. Grissett and Okegwo's contributions are considerable, but it is Blake's irrepressible pulse that dominates, elevating each track with deft reactions and all-out drive.
March 31st, 2010's opening set at the Village Vanguard came soon after the CD's release, mirroring many of its features. Opening with "Storm Approaching," Harrell was initially hesitant, but hit his stride by "Obsession," which also featured Escoffery rousing from simmer to boil in short succession. The ultra-funky "Cactus" (not on the CD) was followed by a beautiful flugelhorn-piano duet on the title ballad, Grissett's lush chords supporting the horn's plaintive peal, a mix of tender vulnerability and rosy exuberance. The rhythm section was a sea of bobbing heads and smiling faces while Blake's hard-hitting sticking almost stole the show.
Track Listing: Storm Approaching; Let the Children Play; Roman Nights; Study in Sound; Agua; Obsession; Harvest Song; Bird in Flight; Year of the Ox.
Personnel: Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone; Danny Grissett: piano, Fender Rhodes; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.