Tom Harrell at the Village Vanguard 1/14/18 (by Caroline Davis)

PERSONNEL: Tom Harrell (trumpet/flugel horn), Danny Grissett (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), Adam Cruz (drums)

SET LIST: Moving Picture, Sea, Someone, Dublin, Vibrer, Taurus (all by Tom Harrell)

HIGHLIGHTS:  Tom Harrell is a king in my book. Even his endearing, muffled count offs are iconic.

Without a doubt, Tom Harrell is one of the living legends of the genre. Harrell has worked endlessly to create a perfect improvised line, through both tried-and-true bebop-isms and newly paired intervals. During this rare quartet concert he kept stretching and pulling, creating new melodies I hadn’t heard from him before.

“Moving Picture” began with a pedal and a stately melody that sort of jutted in and out, leading to an unison 8th-note line that sent off the trumpet solo. It was a perfect example of Harrell’s propulsive tenacity, proving once again that he develops his ideas to their fullest. The band never left his side, they were both supportive and ambitious towards the direction of the music.

“Sea” had a sort of Alberti-bass inspired figure introduction that unexpectedly gave way a beautifully flowing sequential melody overtop a Bossa-nova inspired groove played by Adam Cruz on the caxixi. The breadth of grooves, from Bossa Nova to Samba to Baiao, explored with this small Brazlian instrument was especially impressive under Danny Grissett’s propulsive solo. Cruz laid out for the rest of the song, listening and smiling the whole way through. Ugonna is steadfast, reliable, and his solos are cliché-free.

“Someone” was a funky excursion that brought us back to the 70s. There were only two chords throughout the whole song, and the band sounded like they had fun re-harmonizing in the moment. Tom’s solo suggested the spirit of Dizzy Gillespie in a few places.

A long duo for piano and trumpet, “Vibrer” (written in 2007 for a French-American Cultural Exchange Grant) was fascinatingly abstract, something almost next door to Olivier Messiaen. The sections with improvisation were rooted in Grisset’s perfect time.

There’s no shortage of melody, sequence, and clarity of phrasing in Tom’s writing, these factors are at the center of his craft. Somehow he makes the mundane sparkle. From drum solos over one-chord vamps to repeating conventional harmonies, his tunes allow the band the freedom and space to be spontaneous without many constraints holding them hostage. His leadership is graceful and humble, and this band was walking alongside him the whole way.

by Caroline Davis