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Tim Warfield Quintet: Gentle Warrior

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Only a thoroughly assured tenor player would lead off a set with a hokey ballad like “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” as Tim Warfield does on Gentle Warrior. It is something that only a handful of greats like Rollins and Gordon can do without risk. Warfield’s nailing such a daring gambit on just his third outing as a leader shows how he has grown since first gaining notice on Tough Young Tenors, the ’91 Antilles young lions showcase.

Still, this is just one of several well-etched facets of Warfield’s sensibility explored on this date with pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Clarence Penn; either Nicholas Payton and Terrell Stafford perform on five of the program’s eight tracks, offering a fine contrast in trumpet styles. What is refreshing about the album is that when it’s over there is no simple label that can easily stick to Warfield.

This is substantially due to Warfield’s fine writing skills. He goes to some often-frequented wells, but doesn’t draw on them all that much.

“Adonis” has some early ’60s Shorter contours and “Constant J” has the bursting-at-the-seams intensity of some of Billy Harper’s best pieces, but both have a streamlined propulsion that keeps the influences from being cloying. He taps an even deeper source for the soul-bearing ballad “Lani.” On the almost twenty-minute “The Grim Reaper’s Rapture,” Warfield has an impressive command of a multi-section work that spans smoldering, vamp-anchored themes and open improvisations.

Most importantly, Warfield writes to his strengths as a soloist. He can quickly and smoothly shift into overdrive to push the envelope within a few bars, or stay at the simmering point to keep the lid vibrating for long spells. In this way, he elicits some exceptional performances from his colleagues; one would be hard pressed to cite albums where Chestnut and Payton stretch out more than they do here.

They say the third time is the charm; Tim Warfield makes the case with Gentle Warrior.