The Time of the Sun, Tom Harrell; HighNote, 2011. Trumpeter Harrell’s fourth album with saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, keyboardist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jonathan Blake is a sweet, smooth exercise in unique rhythmic accessibility and lyricism. The disc opens with sounds produced by the magnetic field of the sun, the final burst of harmony, according to the notes, using oscillation data from the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory, a satellite with ears. The brief prelude serves as symbol of what follows: warm, varied and bright. Harrell’s nine tune oscillate between uptempo and contemplative while his playing remains thoughtful, revealing and resolute. These aren’t Harrell’s most involved compositions. The themes are engaging enough to draw cynical listeners in to Harrell’s lyric mysticism. Fine, occasionally electric keyboard comps from Grissett, equally electric soloing from Escoffery’s tenor, and rhythmic footing anchored deeply in the concrete-poured foundation from Okegwo and Blake give Harrell all he needs to make us believe what he has to say. We thought of some of Freddie Hubbard’s ballads and mid-tempo pieces from his CTI days. But going back to them we found Harrell more rhythmically ambitious. I’ve listened frequently, trying to figure out why I like this recording so much. I figured it out. How could I not?
Straight Life, Freddie Hubbard; CTI, recorded 1970. We thought (see above) we heard something of Hubbard’s great work for Creed Taylor in Tom Harrell’s new album. We were wrong. Hubbard was into the times. He’d help create them. He brings a full platter of Freddie-isms to the bugaloo of “Mr. Clean” and the title tune. Ron Carter pegs it, Jack DeJohnette has no peer mixing it up inside shuffle rhythms; Herbie Hancock, on Fender Rhodes, is off beat and funky. Joe Henderson, likewise displaying his personal arsenal, explodes on tenor. Still, the highlight is Hubbard’s flugel on “Here’s That Rainy Day.” The man knew how to get warm and cozy with a ballad. Do we still like this recording as much as I did when it first came out? And more.
Blood From the Stars, Joe Henry; Anti-, 2009. There was a hurricane, spinning out of somewhere, heading somewhere else. We needed to hear “Death To the Storm.” We love songwriter-singer Henry’s mix of weird and wonderful, of poetry and song, of pop and jazz instrumentation, of tradition and innovation. And , like him, we believe in “thunder, stairways, bottle caps, damp alleys, Fats Waller…and the sanctity of beauty salons.” There’s comfort in discomfort. Joe’s found it.
Beethoven: The Early String Quartets, Op. 18, NoO. 3, No. 4, No. 6, Tokyo String Quart, Pinchas Zukerman viola; RCA Victor Red Seal, recorded 1991. The middle disc of this three disc set prepares me for all the emotion I’ll face during the day. With coffee.
Conversations: Archie Shepp Meets Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio with Ari Brown and Malachi Favors; Delmark 1999. Blues in a spiritual direction. The spare backing keeps tenor soloists Shepp and Brown clean, like a white shirt on Sunday. A few times during August, this tribute to Fred Hopkins gave us the strength to finish the day. Hallelujah.