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Event Archive - Tom Harrell, Ugonna Okegwo, Quincy Davis

Fri. January 30th 2004 @  The Cellar Restaurant/Jazz Club (All Ages)
8:00 & 9:45
$25 per set
Ugonna Okegwo - bass
Quincy Davis - drums
Friday and Saturday, January 30th and 31st, 8:00 & 9:45 Tickets $25 per set available at The Cellar on December 15th, 2003

Call 604-738-1959 for more information

The Village Vanguard has been a part of Tom Harrell's consciousness since he grew up listening to such legendary recordings as John Coltrane's "Live" at the Village Vanguard. In November 2001, 40 years to the month after Coltrane cut his classic disc, Harrell returned to the club with his own group for a six-night engagement, highlights of which comprise Tom Harrell Live at the Village Vanguard, his latest release on Bluebird Records, a subsidiary of The RCA Victor Group (release date May 7). This is not Tom Harrell's first live recording from the Village Vanguard - he played on a 1982 recording made there, in the trumpet section of a big band led by another of his heroes, composer George Russell. With Tom Harrell Live at the Village Vanguard, the trumpeter/composer returns to the fabled jazz club as a headliner, with his own working quintet, in their first recording together.

Harrell is widely regarded as being among the most creative and uncompromising jazz instrumentalists and composers of our time. A past winner of both the Down Beat Readers and Critics Polls in the trumpet category, he was voted Composer of the Year in 2001 by the magazine's readers. His compositional genius most recently was showcased on 1999's Grammy-nominated Time's Mirror album with big band and on last year's acclaimed Paradise with a chamber ensemble that included strings. Seven of the eight selections on the Village Vanguard CD come from his pen, but this time around he plays them with his working combo, a remarkably cohesive unit made up of tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, pianist Xavier Davis and his younger brother, drummer Quincy Davis.

Like their leader, the sideman are firmly grounded in the jazz tradition but open to exploring new avenues. "All of the members of the group have individual styles," he says. "You can hear how they've created new voices for themselves, remaining in touch with the tradition while moving beyond it into new music."

The seven Harrell compositions on the album are all new to disc and serve as examples of the trumpeter's uncanny ability to write music that is technically challenging yet accessible to the listener. "I try to keep the audience interested through using contrast in the arrangement," he says.

"Asia Minor," the steaming album opener, is rife with such contrast. "It goes into different scales," Harrell explains. "It starts out in minor and then goes into a mixture of major and minor. It has three sections. In the last section I was trying something that I'd never done before by using a minor chord with an inversion with a ninth in the bass. I've been thinking of chords with different notes in the bass other than the root. I thought it would be interesting to have the ninth for a long section as a pedal, and then it moves into the root at the beginning. It's the same chord, but it goes to the tonal center at the beginning of the chorus. Each chorus is repeated, but the structure is modified in the blowing section in terms of the number of the measures."

The gentle "Manhattan, 3 A.M." features bassist Okegwo, who quotes from the earlier Harrell composition "Bell" during his solo. "You can hear the individuality of his style," the trumpeter says. "It has a spiritual quality. It's kind of like a group meditation, with him being the main speaker. Music is most meaningful to me when there's a feeling of group harmony, both with the musicians and with the audience. Sometimes there are these magical moments when you can feel peace in the room."

"When the Rain Begins" is the first recorded collaboration by Tom and Angela Harrell, his wife of 10 years. When he initially heard her sing the melody, he knew he had to write it down. "She thought of making the song first in 4/4 and then going into 5/4," he says. "I made the arrangement. It also goes into some other time signatures - 3/4, 6/4 - and the blowing section is in 5/4."

"Blues in Una Sea" is not a 12-bar blues, though it has a definite blues feeling. "That's my reference to world unity," Harrell says of its title. "We're all living in one ocean, in one atmosphere, and everyone has the blues. We all feel the same things. It goes through different moods. I'm trying to find different kinds of sounds, not only harmonic structures that are a little unusual, but also the way that each chord moves to the next chord. I try to do it in a way that creates a kind of magic."

"A Child's Dream," a tune inspired by the cultural diversity of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood in which he lives, at first proved difficult for the band members to play. "I guess it's deceptively simple," Harrell admits. "It becomes very easy to sing, once you learn it. I'm interested in creating rhythmic interest through different lengths of phrases or different numbers of measures. You can create a polyrhythmic kind of feeling even though something might be in 4/4. You can superimpose another rhythmic structure over 4/4. Monk was always doing that, like with 'Rhythm-A-Ning' or the beginning of 'I Mean You.'"

An offer to do a concert with Ornette Coleman inspired Harrell to write "Design" - an offer that never materialized because Harrell had a previous commitment. "I was so excited when I got the call to play with Ornette, I started playing trumpet right away," he explains. "I kept hearing phrases in my head. Every time I thought of a new phrase I would write it down, then I went back and thought of chords to go with the melody. Sometimes the chords are only two notes at once. Other times I gave the players the freedom to choose the harmony over the pedal point."

The album's only non-original, "Everything Happens to Me," is perhaps one of the most gorgeous ballad performances ever recorded by the trumpeter, who plays it as a duet with pianist Davis. It was written by Matt Dennis and Bob Adair for the Tommy Dorsey orchestra and first recorded by the band in 1941, with Frank Sinatra doing the vocal. Harrell, however, learned it from a later Billie Holiday recording. "I try to always learn the words when I play a standard song," he says. "It helps give you the feeling of the notes. 'Everything Happens to Me' has great lyrics. The song has a healing kind of quality. It sort of captures the essence of being a human being. Even if I've made a mistake during the day, I can redeem myself by playing that song."

The set closes on a festive note with the explosive Latin-spiced "Party Song." "The title was kind of mutually decided upon," Harrell says. "There's three sections, and it goes through different tonal centers."

The Live at the Village Vanguard album is the latest chapter in a journey that began in Urbana, Illinois, where Harrell was born on June 16, 1946. He was raised in Los Altos, California, near Stanford University, where his father taught. Tom took up trumpet when he was eight and began improvising almost immediately, inspired by the Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman records in his parents' collection. Trumpeters Blue Mitchell and Clifford Brown also were major influences on the young musician.

Harrell was gigging around the San Francisco peninsula, on both trumpet and piano, by the time he was 13, and he studied as a teenager with John Handy and Lee Konitz, among others. After graduating from Stanford in 1969 with a degree in music composition, he joined the Stan Kenton orchestra and played in Woody Herman's trumpet section in 1970-71. He spent the next year in the Latin-jazz fusion band Azteca, then began a four-year stint with the Horace Silver Quintet.

The Silver gig led Harrell to move to New York, where he was soon making records with Konitz, Bill Evans, Phil Woods and other jazz greats. He spent much of the 1980s touring with Woods, who once called him "the best musician I've encountered in 40 years of music," and has been leading his own groups since 1989. His already high profile received an additional boost when he signed with RCA Victor in 1996.

The band heard on Tom Harrell Live at the Village Vanguard has been together one year, though the pianist and bassist have been working with Harrell for over three. "The chemistry with the quintet is really great," he says. "We've been doing a lot of concerts, and each time the group feeling is really strong. The audience reaction has always been really positive. We've played in the United States and Europe and Asia, and it's been really fun each time."

Note: Live at the Village Vanguard won an award in Germany, "Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik," in August 2002.


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