This is Tom Harrell's first live record, and what a pleasure -- a stirring hour-plus in the company of the trumpeter's working quintet, with Jimmy Greene on tenor sax, Xavier Davis on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Quincy Davis on drums. Harrell wrote a new batch of music, full of depth and ingenuity, for this November 2001 engagement at the Village Vanguard. The carefully chosen track list begins with "Asia Minor," an angular line and hard-swinging round of solos, followed by the brief and unorthodox "Manhattan, 3 A.M.," a dark, melodic idea that frames a thoughtful improvisation by Okegwo. "Where the Rain Begins," co-composed by Harrell's wife, manager, and co-producer, Angela, balances a bright 5/4 blowing section with a wistful 4/4 ballad interlude. Harrell continues to mess with rhythm and form on "Blues in Una Sea," embedding blues changes in an involved harmonic pattern with odd phrase lengths; he achieves a similarly unpredictable effect on the mellow, bossa-based "A Child's Dream." The high point arrives with "Design," a deft unison line that picks up in speed and complexity after a series of initial exchanges with Quincy Davis' drums. Solo commentary ensues, churning and intense. Harrell then changes the pace entirely, summoning the angels with a sublime duo reading of "Everything Happens to Me," backed only by Xavier Davis. The boogaloo-ish "Party Song" closes the set with a flavor that's subtly reminiscent of "Cantaloupe Island." Among the many gems in Harrell's discography, this one certainly stands out.
Live at the Village Vanguard Review
by David R. Adler