Tom Harrell – Infinity(HighNote Records HCD 7321. CD Review by Peter Jones)
A simple riff in 7/4, accompanied by a flurry of semiquavers, heralds The Fast, the first tune on this new album – his 33rd as leader – by American trumpeter Tom Harrell, which he has just added to an award-strewn 35-year recorded legacy. Somehow he has also found the time to work as a sideman with the likes of Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz, Horace Silver and Phil Woods.
The good news about Infinity is that Harrell sounds as hip and modern as ever, with that soft, silky tone reminiscent of Chet Baker. His quintet has mutated several times since the mid-1990s, currently consisting of Mark Turner on tenor, Charles Altura on guitar, Ben Street on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, of whom the latter has been with him on and off for the last six years.
Infinity is a highly melodic piece of work, featuring tunes that often unspool in long sections (e.g. Dublin), and are rhythmically complex (e.g. The Fast, Hope) without this complexity becoming the main focus of attention. Of course you’ve got to love it when, three-quarters of the way through a relaxed number like Hope, the tune suddenly snaps into upswing, on an album that otherwise has no swing on it at all. Or when the band just sits on a guitar/bass groove, as on Ground and Taurus.
The playing throughout is unshowy; the vibe is pretty laid back, and the soloing is beautiful, particularly Harrell’s own. Guitarist Charles Altura is a nicely muted presence here, his contributions reflective and tasteful, e.g. at the start of Coronation and on Folk Song where, appropriately enough, he plays acoustic.
Some of the material harks back to the classic days of the jazz quintet, such as the straight groove Blue, which evokes the sound of 1960s Blue Note, with some cool modulations and classy soloing from Mark Turner and Harrell himself. Elsewhere the music sometimes takes unexpected turns, as on The Isle, where a slightly twee melody is replaced after what sounds like the closing chorus by a darker excursion based on a single chord.