Tom Harrell Quintet

In the 1980s, while the jazz public crowded around Wynton Marsalis, veteran musicians had the name of another trumpeter on their lips: Tom Harrell. He created a cool excitement with the architecture of his solos and the slightly shaded, backlit glow of his timbre, which to this day recalls the diffident calm of Chet Baker. His improvisations seem to arrive fully formed, unusually coherent and balanced–they often sound as if he’d written them out beforehand, which is no small compliment given his talent as a composer. (For much of Harrell’s career, his solos were practically the only way he could express himself spontaneously: he suffers from schizophrenia, and in the past his medications pushed him so deep into a protective shell that he could barely hold a conversation or even make eye contact.) Harrell’s newest disc, Paradise (Bluebird), features a grand variety of voices and moods, its nine tunes employing several different lineups; he mixes and matches the personnel from a string quintet and a jazz octet that, improbably enough, sometimes augments its rhythm section with a harp. His arrangements are smart and smooth–he uses the quintet’s two cello to particularly good effect, letting them puff up the music at just the right times. Unfortunately, Harrell doesn’t often travel with a large band (last summer’s European tour with the Paradise octet was an exception), but in the past he’s usually managed to display most of his virtues with just a quintet. For this engagement he brings young tenor saxist Jimmy Greene, a muscular, graceful player who made his Chicago debut last spring with Kenny Barron; pianist Xavier Davis, who worked for Betty Carter in the last year of her life; drummer Quincy Davis; and bassist Ugonna Okegwo, longtime linchpin of Jacky Terrasson’s trio. Tuesday through Thursday, June 12 through 14, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, June 17, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/JoAnn Savio.