Tom Harrell has had a lot of success with his series of quintet recordings for HighNote, but his fifth release for the label, which uses the same musicians as the first four CDs (tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Johnathan Blake), takes a different path, featuring the full band on four of the eleven tracks, then in various configurations from solo to duo, trio, and quartet. He explodes out of the box with a fiery take of Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'N' Boogie" accompanied solely by Blake. Harrell previously recorded his mellow ballad "Journey to the Stars" as a duet with Grissett, but for this session, he overdubs several muted trumpets in spots. Grissett switches to electric piano for the leader's haunting ballad "The Question," a trio feature that also showcases Escoffery to good effect. The full quintet is heard in Harrell's lush miniature "Right as Rain," with the rich blend of his flügelhorn and Escoffery's tenor in the ensembles. Escoffery steals the show with his engaging solo in Harrell's tricky "No. 5," a potent post-bop workout. "GT" has a free jazz vibe, with potent solos all around. Harrell is all alone for the standard "Star Eyes" and Tadd Dameron's infrequently played "A Blue Time," taking his time to work his way into the theme of the former while only briefly touching on it before returning to improvising on its well-traveled changes, then bringing out the melancholy air of the latter with a loping, spacious interpretation. Tom Harrell continues to surprise with his thoughtful playing, composing, and arranging for this rewarding effort.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden