Jazz Trumpeter Tom Harrell Proves To Be A Thinking Person's Soloist On 'Infinity'

23 hours ago
Originally published on April 16, 2019 6:55 am
Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Jazz trumpet player Tom Harrell played with bandleader Horace Silver in the 1970s and started recording under his own name in the '80s. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says ever since, Harrell has shown himself to be a thinking person's jazz soloist - thoughtful and introspective. Kevin says Harrell writes music to match and picks the right musicians as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "DUBLIN")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: "Dublin" by trumpet player Tom Harrell - for decades, he's been making first-rate records and acquiring high-profile admirers without quite becoming a household name. Harrell occupies his own corner of the jazz scene. He likes to record his own compositions and generally takes a thoughtful and even reserved approach. But he's a swinger, too, and his best pieces have compulsive drive. The highlight of his new quintet album, "Infinity," is his tune "Ground." Its infectious, doubled-up shuffle beat sends the trumpeter to his happy place.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "GROUND")

WHITEHEAD: A buoyant rhythm section always helps - in this case, Ben Street on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums and Charles Altura doing a little light overdubbing on guitars. Not having a piano opens up the texture. Leader Tom Harrell is partial to understatement in the great tradition of un-shouty jazz horn players. Any trumpeter using Harmon mute to get a plaintive sound will remind some listeners of Miles Davis. Tom Harrell is his own man, but he may make that connection himself. His solo on "Hope" recalls Miles' economy and dry wit.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "HOPE")

WHITEHEAD: The trumpeter's partner in the front line is tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, a thinking horn player himself. There's good give and take between them when they solo back to back. These players are thoughtful, but that doesn't mean they can't turn up the heat, especially with that rhythm section pushing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "CORONATION")

WHITEHEAD: Tom Harrell has been crossing paths with and hiring most of these younger musicians for a decade. So even though this lineup and much of the music is newish, the performances have a lived-in feel. That comfort level among the players lets them be their best. Group chemistry and deft composing make "Infinity" one more polished, inventive, easy-on-the-ears Tom Harrell album to check out - jazz in the modern mainstream that's really, really good.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "THE ISLE")

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Infinity," the new CD by jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell.

On tomorrow's show - fear and hope about climate change. Bill McKibben, who first warned of climate change 30 years ago, says its effects are now upon us with heatwaves, fires, flooding, drought and, soon, millions of climate refugees. He also warns of the dangers of human genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. McKibben's new book is called "Falter" - hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM HARRELL'S "THE ISLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.