Harell Rips It Up
Trumpeter Tom Harell & Quintet Take on ScullersBy Jorge Padilla
On the heels of his recently released album, Paradise, trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, and arranger Tom Harrell gave Scullers Jazz Club a whirl on August 9. Harrell has been voted Trumpet Player of the Year for the last four years by readers of Downbeat Magazine. His New York-based Tom Harrell Quintet, consisting of Harrell on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on saxophone, Ugonna Okegwa on bass, Quincy Davis on drums, and Xavier Davis on piano, is currently on the road promoting Paradise.
Paradise is a melting pot of international music, combining Afro-Caribbean, Brazilian, pop, and jazz styles. This same cultural mix permeated the set at Scullers. The first number had pop, rock, and jazz elements, and Davis wasted no time swinging and rocking on beats two and four. Harrell made his musical entrance with a brief solo that enticed the audience to focus on his performance. His reserved demeanor perfectly complemented the sparse ideas and short phrases of his pensive improvisation.
In the second piece, which amplified the eerie mood of the first, Okegwa established a slow Afro-Caribbean waltz in a minor key as the band gradually joined in. Greene improvised the first few choruses, unveiling a musical intensity similar to that of John Coltrane or Michael Brecker. Harrell’s second solo was similar in character to his first, with its clipped, dissonant passages.
The Quintet segued into Brazilian music with a catchy, happy melody in the lively bossa nova style. Harrell’s third solo stunned the audience with its completely new approach to improvisation. He began slowly, gradually incorporating more complex ideas and longer phrases. In other words, he let it rip.
The band was really moving by this time, and their momentum lasted the rest of the evening. The audience, who had been sitting on the edges of their seats absorbing the suspenseful aura of the club, was now unimaginably out of control (well, not exactly, but pretty close to it). The atmosphere in the club was intense; excitement raged through the room. The quintet couldn’t have picked a better ending.
They concluded their formal program with an eight-bar blues written by Harrell, an entire piece which was full of energy. Okegwa and Davis laid down the groove as the band swung on. The rhythm section did a superb job complementing the soloists and sustaining the band’s energy.
A beautiful empathy about the group made for the enjoyable finale. The crowd loved the blues and gave them a standing ovation, cheering on until the band satisfied their demands with an encore rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm in E.”
Harrell’s music speaks a different language with its distinct, lyrical beauty. He possesses a melodic power that captivates his listeners, tapping their immediate desires and eliciting emotional responses. My conclusion for the Tom Harrell Quintet -- they were monsters.