REVIEW: Tom Harrell’s Colors of a Dream at Ronnie Scott’s

Esperanza Spalding, Ugonna Okegwo, Tom Harrell
Ronnie Scott’s, July 2014. Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved

Tom Harrell’s Colors of a Dream
(Ronnie Scott’s, 8 July 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Tom Harrell launched the European tour of his Colors of a Dream project at Ronnie Scott’s in the company of a group of younger musicians with eye-watering credentials. Three form the backbone of his acclaimed regular quintet – Wayne Escoffery on tenor, drummer Johnathan Blake and bassist Ugonna Okegwo – to whom he’s added the sparkling talents of Jaleel Shaw on alto, and the bass and voice of Esperanza Spalding. For the London-born pair of Escoffery and Okegwo, it was also a homecoming.

The Colors of a Dream band, which first appeared early in 2013, performed two sets of material drawn from the eponymous album recorded shortly after their debut. The opening set, sprinkled with inspired nuggets – notably the two bassists duetting delicately alongside Harrell on Family – had the feel of the sextet renewing group familiarities, re-engaging their equilibrium as they got to grips with Harrell’s carefully layered compositions. By the second set they had marked out individual expressive spaces within the dominant pattern of emergent small groupings, to give an extra fillip to their interpretations of Harrell’s often riffy, bluesy subtexts.

Harrell’s flugelhorn carried special weight. Concentrated, understated, soft-toned – recalling Chet Baker’s poignant tones and Miles’ muted beauty – he was equally at home blending in to the three-part brass section as he was stepping forward, leaning intently downwards to take a fleeting, textured solo passage, solid one moment, then a breathy wisp floating ethereally up and away.

Spalding enjoyed her role behind the leader, adding lines of elastic scat to her confident bass and a mellow vivacity to the light Latin breeze of Velejar, and was equally at home holding a lean rhythmic line with Okegwo and Blake that slipped from witty syncopation to a power drive underpinning Shaw’s and Escoffery’s flying, sculpted solos. Okwego revealed mastery in complex melodic stretches and Blake, low-key, economical with his low-lying snares and cymbals, also let rip with dextrous glee.

The core vibe of this group is as much about communicating enjoyment as it is about virtuosic ensemble work. Harrell’s bandleading brought out the best in his musicians, his refined sense of delegation achieving an ideal balance between the demands of interpreting his crafted scores and individual expression. These responsibilities aside, he also demonstrated, modestly, quite why he is one of the most revered trumpeters of our time.

Tom Harrell – trumpet/flugelhorn
Jaleel Shaw – alto saxophone
Wayne Escoffery – tenor saxophone
Esperanza Spalding – bass, vocals
Ugonna Okegwo – bass
Jonathan Blake – drums

Categories: miscellaneous

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