Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tom Harrell - Part 2 - A Retrospective & The Recordings

[c] - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Phil Woods has no tolerance for either shallow musicianship or hyperbole about Jazz players. So when this highly respected alto saxophonist speaks of ‘genius and innovation’ in Jazz in the same breath, we’d best listen. You know it’s no jive.

His words almost take on a reverential tone when he speaks of Tom Harrell." ….
– Ken Franckling

“His style mixes together the power of Clifford Brown with the lyricism of Chet Baker.” 
– Scott Yanow

If nothing more was ever said about the quality of Tom Harrell’s playing, this one sentence might stand as the definitive description of it. I can think of no other trumpet player in Jazz today who melds Brownie’s fire with Chet’s songfulness.

Before delving into Tom’s recordings, let’s begin with Constance Casey’s well-written retrospective of Tom’s career as a context in which to place them. Her essay is entitled Making Music That Catches The Wind: Premier Jazz Trumpeter Tom Harrell Outplays His Schizophrenia and it appeared in the May/June 2008 issue of Stanford Magazine, the same year that Tom took up an artist-in-residency at the university.
Constance Casey, a former book editor of the San Jose Mercury News, is a New York City writer who regularly contributes to

© Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“At the Iridium Jazz Club’s tiny tables are several groups of young Europeans on a pilgrimage to hear trumpeter and composer Tom Harrell. Some of his fellow jazz professionals, many graying, came early to get front-row seats. Toward the back are some lucky tourists who’ve walked the few blocks up from Times Square.

Burly sax player Joe Lovano takes the quartet’s first solo, then comes Harrell. With his horn up, he is a compelling figure: a gray-haired, ghost-pale man in black leather jacket and black jeans. From his trumpet comes a cascade of notes, impossibly high and impossibly fast, yet with each note articulated. He’s inventive, completely concentrated, playing with the audience’s expectations about where the tune will go next. Then, on a standard—“Body and Soul”—his playing turns slow and sweet, twining with Lovano’s sax.

Harrell usually plays and tours the United States and Europe with the intensively rehearsed quintet he leads. Tonight’s quartet plays together expertly even without rehearsal; they trust each other. Harrell and Lovano have played together for at least 25 years. Cindy Blackman, intense and glamorous, is on drums; Cameron Brown, with 40 years of recording behind him, plays double bass. For this week each will lay improvisations over Harrell’s compositions, and every performance will be distinctive.

Newsweek has called Harrell a genius, and Entertainment Weekly named his recording The Art of Rhythm its best jazz album of 1998, celebrating “Harrell’s arrival as a composer and as the premier trumpeter of his generation. (Sorry, Wynton).” Phil Schaap, curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center, says of Harrell, “He has it all—technique, lyricism, beauty and energy.”

But the sight of Harrell when he lowers his horn is also compelling. His head is bowed, his chest caves in, the hand holding the trumpet hangs limp. His face is without affect or reaction. Not everyone in the audience knows that he has schizophrenia; the disease was diagnosed when Harrell, ’67, was a Stanford freshman. For more than four decades he has struggled with the illness and with the debilitating side effects of the imperfect medications used to control it.

His appearance unnerves people, even as their hearts go out to him. He’s aware of the discomfort that disperses only when he is playing his shimmering music. He once apologized to an audience, “I’m sorry I’m not a more charismatic figure.”

It is, of course, a cliché to cite music’s power. We have all, as listeners, experienced its charms—been soothed by lullabies, excited by fast tempos, consoled by stately rhythms. We’ve read about countless performers who proclaim that music is their reason for being. It’s another thing altogether to hear this sentiment from Harrell, for whom music literally is transforming: “One of the first reasons I wanted to play the trumpet is that it healed me.”

There is no cure for schizophrenia, although generations of drugs developed during the past 20 years have made the disease more bearable for many. But it remains very hard for a schizophrenic to make a coherent life, much less construct a stellar career. In a typical year Harrell has between 80 and 120 performance dates in the United States, Europe, South America and Japan. His fellow performers report that he is remarkably dependable and considerate. His success is especially remarkable because he still experiences delusional thinking, hears voices and shies at noises, such as a camera’s click.

“His condition?” says Joe Lovano. “He knows how to deal with it. He’s a mature individual.”

When told about Harrell, neurologist Oliver Sacks, the author most recently of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, was reminded of one of the most studied cases of schizophrenia in history, that of Daniel Paul Schreber, a German who died in 1911. Though institutionalized, Schreber was able to write a memoir in which he observed, “During piano playing the nonsensical twaddle of the voices which talk to me is drowned. . . . Every attempt at ‘representing’ me by the ‘creation of a false feeling’ and suchlike is doomed to end in failure because of the real feeling one can put into piano-playing.”

Harrell’s fellow musicians often mention the honesty of his playing, his authentic feeling. The intensity of his playing, along with the structure of music itself and the supportive cohort of musicians who work with him, seems to mitigate the disease’s hallmarks of disordered thinking and withdrawal from other people. Harrell also benefits from his marriage to Angela Harrell, a Japanese-born science and medicine writer whom he met 16 years ago when she interviewed him for a joint Japanese TV and Discovery Channel documentary on creativity and the brain. (“She called me,” he says, with a faint smile, to joke about her being forward.) She acts as his manager, booking performances and looking after his music publishing. Hundreds of his songs, orchestrations and arrangements are used by other musicians. His compositions have been played by Carlos Santana and Vince Guaraldi; young trumpet players up for a challenge buy the sheet music, Tom Harrell—Jazz Trumpet Solos Collection.“He could not do it himself,” Harrell’s agent Joel Chriss says. But well before having Angela’s logistical and business support—in the late 1970s—Harrell was established as one of the foremost musicians of his generation. As a teenager, he sat in on Bay Area jam sessions that sometimes included famed saxophonist Dewey Redman. After graduating from Stanford (where he played with the Band and the Stanford Symphony), Harrell toured with Stan Kenton’s band and Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd. In the 1970s he moved from big, brassy bands to more experimental music, playing with jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver. Silver was a pioneer in hard bop style, an extension of bebop that pulled in gospel, and rhythm and blues.

By age 30 Harrell was leading groups of his own. His 21 albums consist mainly of original works, with a few standards tucked in. Some of his most impressive pieces are experiments in the interplay of trumpet and voice. Early this year the French Orchestre National de Lorraine recorded a premiere of Harrell’s symphonic suite for singer Elisabeth Kontomanou. Another reason he gives for loving the trumpet is that he believes it’s the closest instrument to the human voice.

On the day we met, Harrell’s speaking voice, whether as a result of his illness or affect-dulling medication, was unmusical, a slow monotone. Our interview took place in a Lower Manhattan hotel room, with Angela sitting quietly nearby. Harrell spoke with eyes downcast, sometimes closed.

“Music always has a fantastic ability for healing. The sound is magic. Don Cherry once said, and Freud, too, by the way, that words themselves are magic sounds.” Harrell gives an almost imperceptible smile at mentioning Sigmund Freud second to Cherry, the late trumpeter.

He describes listening as a child to his grandparents’ 78-rpm recordings of Enrico Caruso arias and Aida by Giuseppe Verdi (certainly a composer who knew how to employ trumpets). He loved his parents’ Jazztone Records compilation of 1950s stars—Charlie Parker, bassist Slam Stewart and “the first time I heard Dizzy Gillespie.”

His father, Thomas W. Harrell, was a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business known for his research on the personality traits of successful business people. (His son and daughter heard him whistle Big Band tunes around the house.) His mother, Margaret, was a statistician who co-authored many of her husband’s studies. Music historian Ted Gioia, ’79, MBA ’83, remembers getting a call “out of the blue” from Professor Harrell. “I’m not even sure he knew I had been a student at the Business School. He just wanted to talk about his son. . . . He was a proud father and relished the chance to hear how much jazz musicians admired his son’s talent.”

Harrell began to play the trumpet when he was 8 and was studying Russ Garcia texts on arranging a few years later. A friend’s father who played bass and drums sometimes invited the young trumpeter to play along. “It was a revelation to me,” Harrell remembers. “I started hearing the color of the walking bass line.”

Listening to the radio one day at age 13, Harrell heard a recording of Clifford Brown, the legendary trumpeter of the 1950s who died in a car crash at age 25. “I heard a celestial sound. It was, essentially, Gabriel.” Critics credit Harrell with some of the best of the Clifford Brown qualities—incredible speed, but with clarity and precision.

In his Stanford studies, he says, “I was interested in European classical music and its parallels to American jazz. Billy Strayhorn was classically trained. Dizzy Gillespie combined the rhythm of jazz with European harmony.” He minimizes the onset of his illness in those college years as, “I dropped out for a minute,” and, later in the conversation, “I had a sort of breakdown.” Calmly, he explains, “I was able to go back after I started taking medication for my illness.”

Harrell firmly rejects any romantic notion that mental illness is in any way of benefit to an artist, something that provides unusual insight. “It’s biochemical,” he says brusquely. “First of all, take the medicine.”

Despite recent advances, medication for schizophrenia remains far from perfect. When a drug damps down the demons, in most cases it also smothers spontaneity and creativity, and in many cases antipsychotics have weakening side effects. For decades Harrell took Stelazine, an early antipsychotic that partially controlled delusions and hallucinations but gave him unpredictable muscle contractions, obviously a terrible problem for a performer. Seven years ago he switched to Seroquel, which has common side effects of dizziness and sluggishness, but causes fewer tremors.

Some paranoid sensitivity remains. Harrell took offense at my question about whether he tended to be more solidly on the beat than many jazz musicians. He angrily left the room after remembering a long ago punning criticism by the late New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliett, who called him, “flat-footed, like a cop on the beat.” Balliett also called Harrell “brilliant,” but that’s not what he remembers. When I had introduced the question by saying I was not a trained musician, he thought I had called him untrained.

Angela said simply, “Tom, you’re being paranoid,” and Harrell returned, suddenly calm, to continue our conversation. “Rhythm is my weak point. I sound stiff to myself sometimes.” As if to stabilize himself, he added very firmly, “Dizzy Gillespie, the greatest trumpet player, admired my playing. That’s all I’ll ever need.”

The musicians who play with Harrell view his occasionally offbeat behavior sympathetically, almost fondly. They remember a time when they were alarmed that he seemed to have gone missing in an airport. He had retreated to a spot in the parking garage to play his trumpet. Some thought the playing was to settle himself; others that he was working on a composition inspired by jet noise.
Jazz is hard work: four hours a day of practice alone, or rehearsal. Harrell manages to surmount his difficulty in communicating verbally with his musical partners: If something is different from what he intends, he’ll play a voicing on the piano rather than explain in words. Harrell also is known for the meticulous preparation of his hand-written scores. Too often, sax player Lovano says, composers turn up with something messy. “When Tom brings in a piece of music, it’s completely written and he’s confident. He counts it off and we play it the first time all the way through.”

The untutored in the Iridium’s audience enjoyed the songs, including Harrell’s best-known “Sail Away.” The educated jazz audience responded to his improvisation; fans say he never plays something you’ve heard before. Someone once said the difference between composing and improvising is that a composer has as long as necessary to create 30 seconds of music, whereas an improviser has 30 seconds. Harrell does both. “I have more ideas now than I ever had,” he says.

He’s modest about his place in the pantheon of American jazz artists, demurs that he is “not a very analytical thinker. I’m playing my feelings.” As our conversation wound down he looked up at me and said, “I can catch the wind, something that is free, something that we all share.”

The next generation of trumpet players is grateful. Ambrose Akinmusire, winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, has seen Harrell in performance. “As soon as he picks the trumpet up, it’s almost like he was meditating. You see pure concentration. I imagine people would walk away with hope, knowing all he’s been through."

For a variety of reasons both personal and professional, for the better part of the 1970s, I essentially gave Jazz a miss.

As a result, I didn’t develop an awareness of Tom on record until I heard him as a member of the Phil Woods Quintet on two 1984 albums: [1] Integrity issued on the Italian Red Records label [CD 123177] in April of that year and [2] later in December, Heaven [Evidence ECD 22148-2].

Unbeknownst to me at that time was the fact that Tom had really started his career much earlier in big bands: first with Stan Kenton in 1969 and shortly thereafter with Woody Herman.

As Stuart Nicholson comments in his book about the resurgence of Jazz in the 1980s

“Tom was featured on an arrangement of ‘A Time For Love’ and it was clear the 24-year old had in place tone, technique and flair for lucid melodic construction. Since then he worked with Horace Silver, appearing on five albums with him, and a remarkable roster of musicians including pianist Bill Evans, George Russell, Mel Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, Lee Konitz and in 1980, he contributed some flugelhorn solos on Gerry Mulligan’s Grammy winning ‘Walk on Water.’” [p. 90]

From 1983 to 1989, Harrell’s “… gift for lyrical invention, economy of line, wholesome tone and the high regard of his peers” [Loc. cit] was such that Phil Woods decided to expand his standard quartet with Hal Galper [p], Steve Gilmore [b] and Bill Goodwin [d] into a quintet in order or to be able to work with Tom on a regular basis.

In The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD: 6th Edition, Richard Cook and Brian Morton had this to say about Phil, Tom and the new quintet in Integrity:

“… any who have heard the group in concert will surely want this live record. Harrell had worked for some years as a freelance in search of a context, and with Woods he secured a precise focus: the material here is a connoisseur’s choice of jazz themes – including Neal Hefti’s ‘Repetition,” Ellington’s ‘Azure,’ Wayne Shorter’s ‘Infant Eyes,” and Sam Rivers’ ‘222’ – mediated through a clear-headed approach to modern bop playing. Harrell’s lucid tone and nimble, carefully sifter lines are as piquant a contrast with Woods as one could wish, without creating any clashes of temperament.” [p. 1579].

Fortunately and with great appreciation to Carl Jefferson its owner, Concord Records had the good sense to further document this superb band with three additional recordings: [1] Bop Stew [CCD-4345], Bouquet [CCD-4377], and Flash [CCD-4408 on which trombonist Hal Crook joins to make the group into a sextet].

Turning once again to Cook and Morton’s comments about these recordings they noted that:

“This was one of the great touring and recording bands of the 1980s. Harrell and Woods inspiring each other and the rhythm section inquiring and swinging. Woods didn’t need to change anything about his style, but it blossoms anew in counterpoint with Harrell’s lyrical fire, and each album is handsomely programmed and delivered.” [Ibid., p. 1580].

In 1994/1995, good fortune came into play again when Phil Woods in conjunction with Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie at Mosaic Records formed an exclusive arrangement to issue a limited edition of 5,000 copies of The Phil Woods Quartet/Quintet 20th Anniversary Set [MD5-159] which contains four never-before-heard tracks with Tom Harrell from Phil’s private collection.
According to Neil Tesser who wrote the insert note booklet for this compliation:

“Bill Goodwin [who by this time had become Phil’s brother-in-law] said that one night ‘Phil called and started raving about how we had to get Tom into the band. He was going on about trumpet and alto, how he’d really been hearing trumpet and alto. The next day we offered tom the job.’ Since the band already had a slate of scheduled gigs at previously contracted fees, this meant a pay cut for all of them, in order to carve-out a fifth salary for Harrell. (‘We all love Tommy’s playing so much, ‘ Goodwin told me at the time, ‘ we’d do almost anything to get him in the band.’)
The band gave Harrell – who had freelanced in new York after stints with Woody Herman, Horace Silver and the Lee Konitz Nonet – a new and respected stage for his subtle musical brilliance. Harrell gave the band another source of superb original compositions; a translucent voice to complement Woods’ own; and a wholly different style of improvisation, based less on the spectacular peaks and grand gestures and more on solos of sustained construction. The force of his musicianship began to push the band into new and exciting areas, building on the structural integrity that had resulted from the addition of Hal Galper a few years earlier.

… Harrell opened up the band, and he retains unique significance in that regard, as the first of the ‘other horn players’ to join Woods on the front line.”

The ensemble work by Woods and Harrell is striking flawless and the unison-lines between the horns on Oliver Nelson’s 111-44 for example will leave you shaking your head at how magnificently well they are executed.

As these recordings also demonstrate, the Phil Woods Quintet with Tom Harrell was a Jazz Band for the Ages and it is a marked shame that it had to create its music in the Jazz obscurity of the 1980s.

I caught up with Tom’s recorded music once again at the end of the 1980’s, this time when he was a member and then became the joint leader of a quintet led by Swiss alto saxophonist and clarinetist George Robert.

This hard-swinging group was in existence from about 1987 – 1992 principally with a rhythm section made up of Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni, Reggie Johnson [b] and Bill Goodwin [d], when he was not touring with Phil Woods’ quintet.

Dan Morgenstern, the esteemed writer on the subject of Jazz and the Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, in his insert notes to the group’s first album Sun Dance [Contemporary CCD-14037-2] album wrote:

“In a varied program of uniformly excellent originals by Robert and Harrell , the band strikes a happy balance between ensemble and solo strength. Robert gets a fine, full sound from both his alto and soprano (he handles the latter with a fluency that reflects his clarinet training) and tells a story when he plays. So does Harrell, surely one of the most underrated and under publicized trumpeters of our time (and quite a flugelhornist, too).

And in his insert notes to the group’s 1989 recording entitled Lonely Eyes [ GRP 1002], Morgenstern expressed this view about the music and the musicians:

“The horns of the co-leaders are splendidly matched, both in ensemble and solo roles. Doubling and skillfully varied writing allow for a textual variety quite amazing for a small group. Harrell, who finally seems to be getting some of the credit long due him as one of the most original and consistently excellent creative improvisers of our time, plays trumpet and flugelhorn and gets his own sound, at once warm and brilliant, from both.”

Mainly thanks to the advent of the compact disc, a few years later I eventually caught up to two other albums that Tom had made in the 1985 for Gerry Teekens Criss Cross label Based in Holland.

The first of these was on pianist Hod O’Brien’s album Opalessence [1012] on which he formed a front line with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams [their take on Clifford Brown’s The Blues Walk will immediately demonstrate why so many Jazz listeners think of Tom’s playing as part of Clifford’ legacy].

The second was a recording done under Tom’s leadership entitled Moon Alley [1018] about which Dan Cross wrote in his review:

“A strong recording in the post-bop tradition, Moon Alley illuminates the impressive writing of leader Tom Harrell, who has penned five of the album's seven compositions. Harrell tends to write in a manner which dictates specific parts for the rhythm section, letting the soloist stretch out over the static accompaniment. The playing is strong by all musicians on the date, and the album benefits from the youthful exuberance of saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who colors the music with smatterings of bent pitches and brief dissonances. Harrell at times reveals the influence of Kenny Dorham, though his sound on the open horn is somewhat harder and brassier than Dorham's. The recording of Kenny Barron's piano, captured by Rudy Van Gelder, gives Moon Alley a sound similar to that which dominated the 1960s Blue Note recordings, and at times, as on Harrell's "Blues in Six," the illusion is convincing." – Dan Cross

A few years later, I encountered Tom again when Gerry Teekens, the owner and producer of Criss Cross, and pianist Mike LeDonne linked up for a series of recordings under his leadership with Tom appearing on two of them.

The first of these was 'Bout Time [1033] where Tom joins Gary Smulyan’s baritone sax to form a front line that is ably supported by pianist LeDonne, and Dennis Irwin and Kenny Washington on bass and drums, respectively.

In his insert notes to the disc, Peter Straub observed:

“The baritone-trumpet front line blends in a way that often sounds like more than two horns. Tom Harrell and Gary Smulyan sometimes remind the listener of the old Pepper Adams – Donald Byrd group, with that combination of authority and wit …. During his tenure with the Phil Woods quintet, Tom Harrell became one of the most significant musicians in jazz, always playing with the daring and nobility he demonstrates virtually everywhere on this album.”

The same group turned up on The Feeling of Jazz [1041] Mike’s next album for Criss Cross about which Scott Yanow had this to say on

“Pianist Mike LeDonne's second recording is most notable for the outstanding and contrasting playing of trumpeter Tom Harrell and baritonist Gary Smulyan. While Harrell is lyrical and melodic, Smulyan is forceful and swings quite hard. With bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Kenny Washington offering stimulating support, the three lead voices are in top form. LeDonne contributed three fine originals and, other than the standard "My Ideal," the other four songs (Duke Pearson's "Ready Rudy?," Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz," Buddy Montgomery's "Bock to Bock," and Wynton Kelly’s "Action") are all superior obscurities. Easily recommended to straight-ahead jazz fans.”

For the past fifteen [15] years or so, Tom’s recorded appearances have increasingly been with his own quintet, in both live and studio settings, and in a series of concept albums on which he not only performs, but for which he also wrote the music.

Issued in 1996 on RCA [09026 68512], Labyrinth drew a high rating and the following high praise from Richard Cook and Brian Morton in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD [6th Ed., p. 667]:

“… 'Labyrinth’ was Harrell’s real coming out as a major figure. Just turning fifty, he came to it with renewed fire. In a sense, the album takes him full circle, teaming him with players who were a part of the Criss Cross operation almost a decade earlier. Don Braden [ts] and Gary Smulyan [bs] have gone on to their own projects, and Steve Turre [tb] is now an established star as has Joe Lovano [ts]. Harrell writes all the tunes with the exception of ‘Darn That Dream’ which is an overdubbed duet with himself on piano …. The larger scale arrangements with horns, like ‘Majesty,’ ‘Sun Cycle,’ and ‘Blue to One’ take him to a new phase of musical organization, a sequence of shifting themes which often defy major/minor distinction and which resolve in the most unexpected ways."In terms of concept albums, one of Tom’s best is The Art of Rhythm [RCA 09026 68924] which is accurately described in the following review again by Richard Cook and Brian Morton in their The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD [6th Ed., Loc cit.]:

“What was becoming increasingly obvious over time is how ebullient and rhythmic a player Harrell is. … having heard this pungent set, one understands that he has learnt a good deal from Dizzy’s Afro-Hispanic experiments. … [This album] isn’t a soar-a-way, south-of-the-border-set. It might equally be subtitled ‘the art of color’ or ‘the art of arrangement.’

Never before has Harrell, who is the composer of all ten tunes, experimented more freely with instrumental combinations. The string and guitar writing, for both Romeo Lubambo and Mike Stern, is exquisite. He opens in gentle mode with clarinet [Greg Tardy], acoustic guitar and string trio on ‘Petals Danse,’ build in woodwinds elsewhere, but also allows himself a hefty dose of jazz horns on ‘Oasis (sharing solo space with Dewey Redman), ‘Doo Bop’ (a feature for Tardy’s tenor) and ‘Madrid.’

He leans heavily on flugelhorn, perhaps too much so, though Harrell has always been able to give the bigger horn the bite and attack of trumpet when so required. A wonderful, accomplished record from an important player. The success of ‘Labyrinth’ has given him considerable artistic leverage; here he used it to maximum effect.”
Jazz is always better in a “live” setting and Tom has a terrific album on offer in this regard with his Live at the Village Vanguard which was recorded November 15 – 18, 2001 [RCA 09026 63910]. C. Michael Bailey, writing in, offered this review of it:

“A Jazz Prometheus, unbound...

…. On his first live recording, Harrell squirts out a treasure trove of new material supplemented with the single (and most appropriate) "Everything Happens To Me." The results are as uniformly fine as we listeners have come to expect from this master.

Here, Harrell leads a quintet in an assembly of characteristically Harrell-abstracts, mood pieces reflecting all matter of wakefulness. The nervous opener, "Asia Minor," submits an angular head that segues into a lyrically swinging flugelhorn solo by Harrell. His solo is supplemented with the tenor of Jimmy Green, who turns in a good solo of his own. The somnolent "Manhattan, 3 AM" provides a ministry for bassist Ugonna Okegwo, while Xavier Davis provides tasty comping on all cuts and exquisite solos on his duet with Harrell on the contemplative "Everything Happens to Me." "Where the Rain Begins" is a plaintive ballad composed by Harrell and his wife/manager, Angela. The piece showcases Harrell's superb grasp on the ballad playing with an open trumpet bell.

"Blues in Una Sea" is a bit of a Hard Bop throw back, sporting elements of the blues and those great Wayne Shorter melodies, circa 1962. "Design" was inspired by Ornette Coleman and results in one of the most spirited performances of the evening, complete with smart complexity and erudite observation. The closer, "Party Song" is a polished Lee Morgan Boogaloo, quietly funky, allowing all of the participants to have their say.

Live at the Village Vanguard is brimming with all of the smartness and attentive humor of the other Harrell recordings. That this Harrell recording is live simply makes it all that much better.”

Ever since their work together in the group co-led by Swiss alto saxophonist George Robert, Tom and Italian Jazz pianist Dado Moroni have remained close friends and a special fondness for appearing together on the summer European Jazz festival circuit.

More recently, this bond has also taken the form of Tom and Dado co-leading recordings for the Italian label aBeat. Of these, Humanity [#2 Signature Series AB JZ 051] is particularly noteworthy. Comprised entirely of six, exquisitely interpreted standards – The Nearness of You, Lover, I Hear a Rhapsody, Darn That Dream, Poinciana – and the title track original by Dado, Humanity is a "formidable disc which gives the listener an hour of music that is rich in intensity, lyricism and pathos.” [paraphrase of Maurizio Zerbo’s review of the disc on].

The pure music that Dado and Tom create on this recording is beautiful articulated in the following statement by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi who requested “the privilege” of being able to write the insert notes for this recording:

“I like the title of this CD very much.It is a declaration, a good omen, a hope.And it is wonderful that the title refers to a Jazz CD.

There is really no music that is more ‘human’ than jazz, of this expression of the body and imagination that speaks to life as it is happening by improvising with sounds.Tom Harrell and Dodo Moroni tell their stories simply, authentically.

They sing their innermost being using so-called ‘mainstream’ language … but in the end this is not important.

What counts is the profound rapport there is between the two musicians, a silent and deeply felt understanding that spans the entire CD.

What counts are the thrills provided by tunes such as ‘Humanity’ or ‘The Nearness of You,’ as well as the other tracks, revealing a touching chance of beauty.

It is in cases like this that jazz reaches the point of being the most human of all expressions of art.”

To paraphrase Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune in his review of Tom’s 2002 appearance at the Jazz Showcase, Chicago’s perennial Jazz club:

“To Jazz musicians, one goal towers above all others: originality. The artist who has something new and personal to say wins the admiration of his peer, while the player who sounds like nearly everyone else makes nary an impression – no matter how much flair or technique he might command.

On Tuesday night, trumpeter-composer Tom Harrell not only reaffirmed his status as one of the most gifted melodists in jazz but unceremoniously pushed into bold, previously uncharted territory

Harrell articulated the difference between genuine talent and an energetic impersonation of it, between great art and mere entertainment.

Though Harrell has been a popular headliner at the Jazz Showcase for years, his performance this time around transcended his earlier work, in part because he unveiled freshly minted compositions he has yet to title or record.

In these pieces, Harrell not only capitalized on his gift for inventing sinuous, idiosyncratic melodies but presented some of the most profound ensemble writing one can hear in live jazz today.”

If you are not familiar with Tom Harrell’s music, hopefully this piece will serve as an inducement to sample it for in doing so you will be placing yourself within the ambit of that rarest of occurrences - artistic greatest.

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