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Tom Harrell: Paradise

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Tom Harrell

Though there have been several vital strains of music since the ’50s that have been lumped together under the rubric chamber jazz, the term is currently applied mainly to drummerless ensembles that, like the prototypical Jimmy Giuffre 3 of the early ’60s, have an ardent envelope-pushing agenda. Fewer artists have pursued the less stridently avantish example of the Chico Hamilton Quintets of the ’50s, whose earnest integration of the cello and smart compositional devices never subverted the mainstream jazz core of the music.

Paradise, flugelhornist-trumpeter Tom Harrell’s album-length foray into chamber jazz, is much closer to Hamilton’s approach, but it isn’t beholden to any single strain in the genre. His use of strings and harp leans toward the mood-setting vignettes of jazz-influenced film scores instead of the arch formalism of contemporary chamber music, and he seems adamantly uninterested in creating statements challenging the tenets of modern jazz. At a time when chamber jazz too frequently mirrors the dilemma of modern art Tom Wolfe lampooned in The Painted Word-where the painting, in a gallery, is dwarfed by the panel containing its articulation-it is refreshing that Harrell’s idyllic agenda is covered by the album’s title alone.

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