Tom Harrell Trip 

By Owen Cordle

November 11, 2014

Not to discount the work of Tom Harrell’s frontline partners from his previous albums, but the tonal match and improvisational rapport between the trumpeter-flugelhornist and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on this record is striking. Of course, Harrell’s writing is a major factor because it establishes compelling moods and guiding rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs. There is also his resourcefulness in directing the rhythm section of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Adam Cruz. Harrell composed all the tunes, including the six-part Adventures of a Quixotic Character suite, which was originally commissioned by Dave Douglas’ Festival of New Trumpet Music. Trip denotes not only the name of the album but also the quartet.

A couple of tunes—“Cycle” and the suite’s “Windmills”—demonstrate how superbly Harrell matches musical imagery and titles. The former employs a melody that suggests a furiously rolling wheel and gives each player a chance to exercise his uptempo chops. “Windmills ” is another round-and-round tune, albeit stately and containing Eastern-sounding harmony. “The Princess” (from the suite) and “After the Game Is Over” inspire some of Turner’s most daring work—leaping intervals (the late Eddie Harris comes to mind), altissimo notes and phrases, fluid runs and firm low-register control. Harrell’s solos are richly melodic, clean and flowing, as on “There,” the closing tune, and the slow, hymn-like “Coming Home.” You never catch Harrell playing clichés or grandstanding in his solos, and he never stumbles.