Over the course of five albums in five years, trumpeter Tom Harrell has maintained the same swinging quintet. Number Five shows the formidable group forging ever-tight chemistry on seven Harrell originals and four well-chosen covers. The collection kicks off in unorthodox but stirring fashion with Harrell and young drummer Johnathan Blake in a heated, freewheeling duet on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Blue ’n Boogie.” Pianist Danny Grissett, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and bassist Ugonna Okegwo join them on the tender Harrell ballad “Right as Rain,” highlighting the trumpeter’s uncanny lyricism.
The aggressively swinging title track has Harrell dancing on top of the uptempo groove with gusto, then tenor saxophonist Escoffery follows with a rampaging solo of his own. Everyone gets a solo taste on this audacious burner, including Blake, who continues to astonish with his fire, facility and intuitive choices on the kit. Harrell’s “Journey to the Stars” is an example of gentle introspection—just soothing flugelhorn over meditative piano ostinatos—while the open-ended “GT” contains some of the his boldest and freest playing on record, spurred on by Blake’s polyrhythmic pulse and Grissett’s provocative chord voicings.
Harrell’s graceful ballad “Present,” with Grissett on Fender Rhodes and Blake on brushes, pulls at the heartstrings. His delicate and searching “The Question,” a sparsely appointed through-composed trio piece for flugelhorn, tenor sax and Rhodes, is among the most striking numbers in Harrell’s extensive oeuvre, while “Melody in B-Flat” is an unadulterated hard-bop romp that finds Escoffery wailing with abandon on tenor and the trumpeter scaling into the high register on his own aggressively swinging solo. This superb outing, the most adventurous and eclectic of the five he’s done for HighNote, includes daring unaccompanied flugelhorn interpretations of the popular standard “Star Eyes” and Tadd Dameron’s “A Blue Time,” a first for the respected veteran.