Tom Harrell has been on a roll since returning to action following a four-year hiatus during the mid-'00s. The trumpeter/composer's third release for HighNote retains the same consistent level of quality that marked his previous two for the label, Light On and Prana Dance, both of which shared the personnel found on Roman Nights: tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Perhaps because they've now been at it that much longer, the quintet is even more in tune with one another on Harrell's new compositions than before. The camaraderie, in particular among the two horn men and Grissett, has been elevated to a level experienced by only a small handful of bands -- usually those boasting long tenures together -- and each musician's contribution is so essential to the whole that it becomes impossible to imagine how the recording might have fared had any one of them not been present. Harrell's compositions are often sophisticated and complex, but also highly melodic, allowing each player to wring the most from every solo without losing sight of the framework Harrell has created for them. Escoffery especially shines, on tracks like the fiery "Let the Children Play" and the Latin-informed "Obsession," and Grissett, who plays Fender Rhodes in addition to piano, contributes intelligently structured solos and harmonies throughout. Not to be overlooked, though, is the rhythm section: Okegwo is a monster of a bassist who keeps the others' flights locked down tight while allowing himself plenty of room to go where he wants to go, and Blake is solid as a rock, tuneful and sharp, equally comfortable within an uptempo burner boasting tricky time changes or a simple ballad that requires only that he keep things moving -- in either case, he brings a flair to the proceedings. Harrell, of course, approaches brilliance early and often, proving himself to be one of the most underrated trumpet players and composers of his generation, with plenty left to say.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin