Tom Harrell/ Don Braden Quintet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tom Harrell/ Don Braden Quintet


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Trumpeter Tom Harrell's fellow musicians regularly rave about his playing, and his lustrous new album, Labyrinth (RCA Victor), reminds you why. Like a scratch golfer, Harrell improvises with concise, well-directed strokes and always seems to reach his destination with a minimum of extravagance. Yet his best solos spark a cool excitement with their long-lined phrases, sustaining architecture, and crystalline chunks of melodic grace. His solos ring out as pure, spacious, and so cleanly chiseled that they sound almost as if he'd written them in advance--no small compliment, given Harrell's oft-noted skills as a composer of attractive and strongly structured jazz songs. I used to think that Harrell represented a burnished-brass analogue to the piano of Bill Evans--certainly Harrell has learned plenty from the pianist's loping lyricism and muscular elegance. But more and more he strikes me as the most notable keeper of Chet Baker's flame. His music has a similar backlit glow: it swings just a bit behind the beat, with the same relaxed stance, like a man early for a date. And even the wildest of Harrell's forays, like Baker's, remain introspective at their core, keeping the final door shut on some essential secret. Harrell's new album stars saxophonist Don Braden, who gets front-line billing in this quintet. Braden began to turn ears as part of Freddie Hubbard's group. Now, with five distinctive albums out under his own name, his loose-limbed command of the horn needs no one else's imprimatur. I can think of a half dozen of Braden's better-known contemporaries who play tenor less succinctly, replacing musical exploration with mimicry and frippery. Braden, though, is the genuine article--smooth but not slick. This quintet also includes ex-Jazz Messengers pianist Donald Brown, whose brawny technique and sprightly compositions make a solid partnership that much better. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Teri Bloom.

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