Tom Harrell
The Time of the Sun
HighNote Records

By Owen Cordle

Tom Harrell’s quintet owes its premier status to the trumpeter-leader’s compelling writing, its ability to maintain a consistent lineup since its formation in 2006, and jazz values rooted in bebop and hard bop but tempered by rhythms introduced since the 1960s. The Time of the Sun, the band’s fourth album for HighNote, represents the pinnacle of its work so far.

As with the group’s previous albums, Harrell penned all the tunes. They are rhythmically engaging, a lesson Harrell learned during his days with Horace Silver’s quintet in the early ’70s (an experience saluted here with the Blue Note-ish “Modern Life"). But then Harrell writes compelling melodies, too, some with long held notes and slow moving lines (“Estuary" and “Open Door"), others with more complex designs. Whatever the case, it’s the groove that perfectly completes them.

We already know that Harrell is a focused, structured improviser who develops his solos like a composer yet still exhibits a sense of daring every time he plays. Here he’s consistently impressive on all counts. Tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is a frontline partner who is varied in temperament and attack and fosters a personal sound; his and Harrell’s hookup can recall the pairing of Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis. Danny Grissett plays both acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes and contributes much to the color of these performances, as on the title track, where his lines on Rhodes snake through the march beat and melody of the horns. And on the fast-paced, arpeggio-based “Ridin’," Grissett offers Bitches Brew-like keyboard jabs and washes. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Johnathan Blake give this music a contemporary feeling, whether it’s the percolating beat of the pop-ish “Dream Text" or the fast Brazilian feel of “River Samba." All of it deserves to be heard again and again.