Jazz at its best has an extraordinary sense of ease -- an embracing flow of feeling and information that transcends the technical aspects of its delivery. Virtuosic though the playing of, say, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Miles Davis may be, what touches us most about their music is the illumination and emotion it communicates.
Tom Harrell's music always has aimed at that level of connection; often, it has achieved it. His compositions, with their blend of attractive melodies and catchy rhythms, are almost always pleasing -- sometimes more so. His playing, on trumpet and fluegelhorn, offers remarkable examples of the strength and power of unwavering inspiration.
Those qualities were infrequently present, however, in the performance Harrell's quintet gave Wednesday night at the Jazz Bakery. Although Harrell's new album, "Wise Children," has received favorable notices, he chose to concentrate on earlier material. However, the evening's real problem was rooted in the generally lackadaisical quality of the performance.
Rare bright moments were provided by energetic saxophonist Jimmy Greene and the precise, bop-driven piano soloing of Xavier Davis. Harrell, however, was surprisingly inconsistent. He occasionally found one of his extraordinarily imaginative impromptu lines, but more often seemed to lose his way before completing a phrase.
Nor were the proceedings particularly aided by the rhythm team of Ugonna Okegwo and Quincy Davis. Despite their long musical association, Okegwo never seemed to make his thumping bass style jibe with Davis' lighter touch on the drums. Combined with the unevenness of the horn players, the result had less to do with musical flow than it did with the feeling of just another day at the office.
Tom Harrell Quintet
Where: The Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., L.A.
When: Tonight-Sunday, 8 and 9:30 p.m.
Contact: (310) 271-9039