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Tom Harrell: Roman Nights

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Trumpeter Tom Harrell’s often beautiful, always rigorous solos and outstanding writing are the main strengths of his latest release on HighNote, Roman Nights. The album also displays the various influences that have been integrated into his work, from Latin rhythms to film soundtracks, bop, the classic playing of jazz immortals like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane-even animal sounds. There’s nothing overly flashy or particularly surprising, but Harrell and company never resort to rote or detached presentation. Whether it’s ballads or driving pieces, their expositions, interaction and song development is exuberant and extensive, devoid of gimmicks and done in an energetic yet also disciplined and sophisticated manner.

Besides Harrell, whose mid-register playing is especially crisp and overall instrumental command first-rate, the band includes another tremendous soloist in tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and a very solid rhythm section featuring pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake. Escoffery can be fiery or smooth, and when he includes in his work quotes from a major influence (Coltrane on “Study in Sound”) he does it so cleverly it doesn’t detract from his own rich statements. Blake and Okegwo constantly add neat rhythmic contributions to pieces without becoming intrusive or neglecting their main duties. When they get solo space or featured moments (“Harvest Song,” “Storm Approaching,” “Obsession”) their playing is prominent and exciting.

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