Tom Harrell: Oak Tree

The trumpeter plays bebop, jazz-rock, bossa-nova and ballads, remaining lyrical and poetic whatever the tempo


Tom Harrell is one of the great jazz trumpeters, and a supreme melodist – both as composer and improviser. The programme of Oak Tree is entirely originals by him, and they make a splendid collection. As an improviser, also, Harrell is lyrical and poetic on uptempo tracks as well as on ballads.

He’s supported by the superb rhythm team of Luis Perdomo – on piano and Fender Rhodes – Ugonna Okegwo and Adam Cruz. Okegwo and Cruz have recorded with Harrell since 1997, but this is Perdomo’s first album with him. It’s a quartet with a single horn, though on some tracks Harrell overdubs harmony parts, and even a duet with himself. On three tracks he’s on flugelhorn.

The opener, Evoorg, is “Groove” backwards, an uptempo composition based on I Got Rhythm. On Fivin’, which has a jazz-rock groove, Perdomo switches to Fender Rhodes. The title track, at mid-tempo, has a gorgeously plangent melody, while Tribute – on which Harrell plays flugelhorn – has a bossa-nova inflection. Sun Up has a catchy melody and groove, with Perdomo on Rhodes. Improv is a boppish theme – not, as the name perhaps suggests, free improv – and Harrell’s ingenious solo features an overdubbed duet with himself. 

On Oak Tree, Harrell comes across as a bebopper in the broadest and deepest sense – like Alan Broadbent, as someone who gains inspiration from the artistic masters of modern jazz. The album also shows something of his Afro-Cuban side, and is no doubt informed also by his studies of classical compositional procedures; he’s also produced smooth jazz, but there’s no sign of that here, fortunately. Harrell favours eloquent and concise solos, and his supreme improvising abilities rest on a “less is more” approach, depending as much on what he leaves unsaid as on what he says.

The informative sleevenotes are by pianist Ethan Iverson, who released a fine quartet album with Harrell on ECM in 2019, Common Practice. Harrell is a master of the art indeed.

Evoorg; Fivin’; Oak Tree; Tribute; Zatoichi; Sun Up; Improv; Shadows; Archaeopteryx; Robot Etude; Love Tide (56.50)
Harrell (t, flh); Luis Perdomo (p, elp); Ugonna Okegwo (b); Adam Cruz (d). New York City, 24-25 November 2020.
HighNote Records HCD 7332