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Tom Harrell: Colors of a Dream

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Anyone approaching Tom Harrell’s new disc as they would the trumpet virtuoso’s 37 years of straight-ahead recordings will be blindsided. Colors of a Dream is a scintillating, highly enjoyable project but nonetheless a remarkable departure for Harrell.

It has no piano, but isn’t chordless. The three-horn lineup-Harrell, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery-often plays in block-chord formation (“Seventy,” “Nite Life”), and the twin basses of Ugonna Okegwo and Esperanza Spalding thicken the harmonies as well. The opening songs are a tango; a tune with Spalding singing in Brazilian Portuguese (her only non-scat vocals on the disc); and the Afro-Caribbean “Phantasy in Latin.” But it isn’t really Latin jazz: Except for drummer Johnathan Blake’s groove on “Phantasy,” the Spanish tinge is played down, emphasized only on “Family”-which doesn’t aim for Latin.

Harrell points to an “overtly R&B” influence in his liners, and there are glimmers of such (e.g., the funky “Even If,” whose bridge paraphrases Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”). Still, the music more often sounds like indie-rock outfit Stereolab, especially in the blending of Spalding’s wordless vocals with the horns on “State” and “Goin’ Out.” Among all this, there’s an Ornette Coleman pastiche on “Blues 2013,” highlighted by a marvelous contrapuntal section for the two basses, one in each channel a la Free Jazz.

Combined, however, these elements form an exotic but unquestionably tuneful compound, a dreamy sort of impressionism that once again showcases Harrell’s brilliant compositions and playing. (His solos on “Even If” and “Walkway” in particular are wondrous.) Colors of a Dream may deviate, but it never disappoints.

Originally Published