NUMBER FIVE review in Step Tempest

"Number 5" HighNote Records), the 5th recording in 5 years to feature the 5-piece band that trumpeter and flugelhorn player Tom Harrell has had together since 2007. Saxophonist and co-producer Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett (he also plays Fender Rhodes), bassist Ugonna Okwego and drummer Johnathan Blake give this music great personality, imbuing the pieces with fire, grace, intelligence and substance. Add to that Harrell's fine compositions and arrangements as well as strong playing and this music shines.

For this CD, Harrell has mixed things up a bit. The first track, Dizzy Gillespie's "Blues 'N' Boogie", features the leader in a furious duo with Blake, the two musicians tugging at each other, pushing and pulling and absolutely swinging. Harrell's duo with Grissett, "Journey to the Stars", is a lovely ballad with circular piano figures and overdubbed trumpets that support the leader's lyrical flugelhorn work. "Present" is also a handsome ballad, with Grissett's chiming Rhodes tones plus excellent brush and cymbal work from Blake. Harrell goes it alone on the standard "Star Eyes", 5:29 of melody, invention, and, yes, rhythm. He close the program with another solo piece, Tadd Dameron's "A Blue Time", a medium tempo ballad that most certainly is a blues but also a richly melodic piece. Harrell's solo displays a swinging feel as well as a wonderful use of silence.

When the Quintet "hits", one can easily hear why Harrell is enamored with this band. Escoffery's tenor playing gets stronger with each recording, his solos filled with smart phrases and ideas (and not cliches.) Grissett, an intelligent player, and Okwego are the "glue" of the group - along with the active percussion of Blake, they give the soloists such fine support on the title track and the mysterious grooves of "GT". On the latter tune, Blake not only propels the piece forward but also engages in conversations with the soloists. Grissett picks up on the Thelonious Monk reference in Escoffery's solo and builds his solo off of it. In this section, the bass and drums move independently of the piano but never lose the forward motion.

Although the CD is credited to Tom Harrell, the 5 musicians are a real working unit and this music would not be good as it is without their interactions and ideas. Put their 5 recordings in a multi-disc player, press the "shuffle" button and luxuriate in one of the best working units in contemporary music. Yes, "Number 5" shows growth and adds new elements to Harrell's vision; yet it is a continuation of the excellent road has taken since 2007's "Light On." For more information, go to www.tomharrell.com.