Saturday, September 20, 2014

Functioning well through music: Tom Harrell adds to the bounty of Indy Jazz Fest

A major figure in post-bop trumpet- and flugelhorn-playing, Tom Harrell appeared with his quartet at the culminating point of Indy Jazz Fest Friday night. He proved to be well worth waiting for.

Tom Harrell, 68, has made his mark on jazz since the '80s.
Well-known through several decades for his artistic triumph over day-to-day struggles with incurable schizophrenia, Harrell presents a startling figure on the bandstand — standing stock-still when he's not playing and never lifting his eyes. Not a word issued from him except counting off the tempo to start a program of mostly originals until he introduced the band by name and instrument at the end of his second set.

The band consisted of three excellent players, all prominently displayed during the set: Luis Perdomo, keyboards; Ugonna Okegwo, bass, and Johnathan Blake, drums. Though Harrell brought both trumpet and flugelhorn onstage, he stuck to the latter instrument through seven tunes. The last of them, the standard "It Could Happen to You," included a wonderful duo between Harrell and Okegwo, in which the lyricism and punch of both players were exhibited.

Blake took several lengthy solos. They were intricate and powerful. He achieved quite a large sound while keeping his hands low, close to the surface of drums and cymbals. That maximized his quickness and kept extraneous gestures to a minimum.

Perdomo had a free-flowing imagination in his solos to match the leader's. He sounded equally bonded to piano and electronic keyboard, moving back and forth as needed. His touch is even and well-controlled, though his soloing never seemed too calculating to sound spontaneous.

About Harrell, much more cannot be said that has already been observed about his fine tone, which is amazingly large without also being loud. His troubled mind yields beautiful results as it lends him a constant stream of ideas to put through his horn. Without effort, he can get around the instrument's entire range, making every sojourn, whether high or low, feel like a seamless part of the melodic line.

His sidemen are all adept at giving immediate rhythmic punch to a phrase, and you could tell they are used to picking up inspiration from their leader. Harrell several times finished off a mellifluous phrase with a rhythmically charged figure that gave extra vigor to his solos. We were hearing a master of both form and content show once again how indissoluble the bond between the two can be.


[Photo credit: Mark Sheldon]