Tom Harrell: Something Gold, Something Blue

From 2007 to 2011, trumpeter Tom Harrell delivered a magnificently consistent torrent of all-original material for his stable working quintet: four albums and 36 songs without a cover in the bunch. The five records since then have tinkered with the formula, either abetting or replacing members of the core group, or, in the case of last year’s First Impressions, playing just a couple of Harrell originals to focus on interpretations of Debussy and Ravel. Something Gold, Something Blue tweaks the template by swapping out tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery in favor of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, while replacing pianist Danny Grissett with guitarist Charles Altura. But the redoubtable rhythm section of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake abides, and save for the venerable chestnut “Body and Soul,” all nine compositions bear Harrell’s unmistakable pedigree.

I don’t recall a time when Harrell has ever debuted his original songs on record with a fellow trumpeter in a small ensemble, but Akinmusire is an inspired choice. He has always sounded a bit like a Harrell acolyte, and the depth of his chops enriches the horn vamps and voicings that are integral to Harrell’s work. When they solo after each other, their overlapping virtues-the easy negotiation of complex changes, the bold phrasing contrasted by a relatively soft tone-retains the overall flow and sensibility more organically than Harrell’s previous cohorts on reeds. Altura is a less-pronounced replacement, but enhances the liquidity with his chording and choice fills, which seem to create more space and freedom for Okegwo and especially Blake. Coming up on a decade together with Harrell, this rhythm section knows how to unearth the dance-oriented melodicism within the composer’s sophisticated charts. Consequently, the tracks that immediately grab the listener, like “Body and Soul” and a swirling “Delta of the Nile” that features guest Omer Avital on oud and heightens Altura’s role, ultimately don’t resonate as long as “Circuit,” “Trances” and “Keep on Goin’,” which slide in easily alongside the classic quintet compositions on Harrell’s earlier records. Ultimately, with a kindred trumpeter and a slightly revamped rhythm section, Something Gold, Something Blue delightfully bookmarks this latest chapter in the 70-year-old leader’s remarkable career.

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