1. Blue `n' Boogie
2. Right as Rain
3. No. 5
4. Journey to the Stars
7. Star Eyes
9. The Question
10. Melody in B-Flat
11. A Blue Time
Tom Harrell - Trumpet, flugelhorn
Wayne Escoffery - Tenor sax
Danny Grissett - Piano, Fender Rhodes
Ugonna Okegwo - Bass
Johnathan Blake - Drums
I have not been overly impressed by previous Tom Harrell recordings that I've heard, but this one is different. The difference may lie in the fact that this CD includes music not written by Harrell (I have never found him a particularly intriguing composer). But the main reason for this album being superior to previous discs is probably the variety that Tom introduces by varying the number of musicians who play on each track. Four of the eleven tracks feature the whole quintet, but the others are by a quartet, trio, duo or solo.
For instance, the album opens with Harrell duetting with drummer Johnathan Blake in the old Dizzy Gillespie number Blue 'n' Boogie. The two men work telepathically together and Blake's drumming is invigoratingly extrovert.
The CD is called Number Five because it is Tom's fifth album on the High Note label - and possibly because it is by his quintet, which is strengthened by such brilliant musicians as tenorist Wayne Escoffery. In a review of an Escoffery album in 2007, I noted that "Wayne Escoffery is clearly a name to watch". He is featured in Right as Rain, an emotive ballad. The title-track illustrates the weakness in Tom Harrell's composing, as it seems to consist of a sequence of pairs of notes without any noticeable melody. The band swings along nicely but it's hard to tell what they are improvising on, as the theme doesn't stick in one's mind.
Journey to the Stars is one of several tunes that Harrell claims the group recorded without any prior rehearsal. It has a floating quality and thoughtful solos by Harrell and pianist Danny Grissett. GT is largely a free piece where the most successful solos come from tenor sax and piano. Present has Tom Harrell's flugelhorn feeling its way, accompanied simply by the rhythm section.
Star Eyes takes us back to jazz standards, although you might not recognise the tune in Harrell's unaccompanied performance, as he only plays fragments from the song. Preludium is an arrangement for trumpet, sax and bass of a piece by Vincent Persichetti. Like The Question, it is slow and mysterious, with the instruments treading warily. Melody in B-Flat is brighter, with more good work from Escoffery.
The album ends with Tadd Dameron's A Blue Time, whose moodiness seems to suit Tom Harrell's essential cloudiness. He plays it entirely alone and his smooth tone is beguiling, although his intonation falters occasionally.
I still have doubts about Harrell's abilities as a composer but this quintet, which also recorded his last four albums, has obviously fused together as a well-integrated unit.