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JAZZ | ALBUM REVIEWS

Tom Harrell, Composer, Moves to the Forefront

*** 1/2 TOM HARRELL, "The Art of Rhythm," BMG

March 01, 1998|Don Heckman

Trumpeter Tom Harrell's consistently attractive playing in an extremely wide array of musical environments has made him one of the most admired jazz improvisers of his generation. But he also is an impressive composer who has only occasionally had the opportunity to display that aspect of his talent.

In this new release, he finally has a free hand to compose for a variety of different instrumentations in a program completely dedicated to his originals.

What emerges here is a clear picture of Harrell's capacity, as a composer, to capture that improvisational drive on the written page and communicate it through the playing of other musicians. And the lineup of players includes some extraordinary talents, among them violinist Regina Clark; saxophonists Dewey Redman, Greg Tardy and David Sanchez; drummer Leon Parker; and pianist Danilo Perez.

Harrell favors Latin rhythms, and many of the tracks are filled with the insistent propulsion of samba, bossa nova and rumba. His textures are remarkably varied, blendings of bassoon, strings, clarinet and guitar in unpredictable combinations. The opening track, "Petals Danse," for example, mixes Tardy's warm clarinet with two violins, cello, guitar and Harrell's fluegelhorn. In contrast, "Caribe" interfaces Redman's outer-limits tenor playing with a floating calypso sound, underscored by Adam Cruz's steel drum playing.

Each piece, regardless of its timbral uniqueness, is structured to allow open space for improvising. And, though the playing roves across many styles, Harrell's intimate, lyrical trumpet and fluegelhorn choruses always pull the music into a framework of intimate communication.

Call it a splendid example of what can result when musical talent and intelligence come together.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

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