'Roman Nights' is Tom Harrell's third album for HighNote and it shows the growth that comes from having a stable basis for keeping together a band that, over a five year period, has established itself as one of the best in jazz.
The nine originals cover the full range of Tom Harrell's gifted musical imagination - the edgy forwarnings of 'Storm Approaching', 'Agua' and 'Year Of The Ox'; the uplift and optimism of 'Let The Children Play' and 'Bird In Flight'; the outright beauty of 'Roman Nights' and 'Harvest Song'; the continuation of the study in melodic/harmonic/rhythmic complexity of 'Study In Sound', 'Bird In Flight' and 'Obsession'.
Tom Harrell's comments to Doug Ramsey on the album liner notes are revealing of his approach:
'I enjoy complex structures….. but having a melody that's song-like is a way to link with a listener. The harmonies may still have complexity, but the melody can lead the listener to feel what the music expresses."
Doug Ramsey points to the coming together of influences in Tom Harrell's approach – Anonio Carlos Jobim's use of melody; Bela Bartok's development of the relationships between melody and harmonic intervals; folk music from Asia, Latin America and Africa; Charlie Parker's sense of harmony.
He quotes Tom Harrell's comments on what he learned from Dizzie Gillespie on the importance of rhythm:
'(Dizzie) said that no matter how beautiful the notes you might select, the rhythmic placement - were you put the note - can affect its beauty. There's an influence between rhythm and harmony. The impact of a chord is very much determined by rhythmic placement, duration and tempo. If you let the chord breathe and give it time to resound, it has a different impact than if it's played percussively with a very short value. Both approaches can establish the beauty of the note. Finding good rhythmic placement is an ongoing search.'
In this search Tom Harrell is joined by musicians at the top of their form. The band - Tom Harrell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Wayne Escoffery (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano, Fender Rhodes), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), Johnathan Blake (drums) - handles the complex rhythms and rapid chord changes with style and produces some great performances with Tom Harrell himself and Wayne Escoffery particularly outstanding in fine solos and harmonized statements of the themes. The overdubbed harmonised horns on 'Let The Children Play' are particularly appealing.
And there is risk taking too. The opening six or seven notes of 'Roman Nights' strongly suggest the Webster/Fain standard 'Love Is A Many Splendored Thing' before the ballad departs on its own path to deliver a stand out feature for Tom Harrell on flugelhorn.
This is intelligent, enjoyable jazz that takes Tom Harrell's remarkable exploration of the form a further step along the way and points to the seminal nature of his innovative contribution.