American trumpeter and flugelhornist Tom Harrell is an elder statesman of Jazz having first recorded as a leader on 1976’s ‘Aurora’. With ‘Infinity’, however, the prolific Harrell has assembled some of New York’s most exciting talent to give his artful compositions a youthful exuberance. On guitar is the virtuosic Charles Altura of Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective, who also appeared on Blanchard’s Oscar nominated score for Spike Lee’s 2018 film ‘BlacKkKlansman’. Altura provides the harmony but also has a big role as soloist on tracks like ‘Folk Song’, on which he uses an acoustic guitar for a calm and warm tone. Bassist Ben Street and drummer Johnathan Blake blend nicely, while tenor saxophonist Mark Turner adds a sheen to Harrell’s compositions.
Opener, ‘The Fast’ is a bass-driven Hard-Bop frenzy, a challenging cacophony of jazz phrases often clashing with the bass pattern. This tune certainly takes no prisoners, with everyone getting time to break free from the structure to contribute a dazzling solo.
‘Dublin’ is an open-sounding, wholesome tune with a beautiful introduction of harp-like guitar melodies. Contrasting with the prior track, this is a more solemn and expressive cut. Altura demonstrates his versatility on acoustic guitar and provides a less intense backdrop over which the soloists experiment and twitter.
The next ballad ‘Hope’ is melancholy and fuzzy, as if it’s been conceived by a drunk shuffling around the streets of downtown New York deep into the night. There are shifts in dynamics, but the continuity and imagery never dissipate. Harrell’s breathy muted trumpet wails and cries, slowly losing shape and potency. It’s a surreal piece bursting with drama and emotion.
The next few tracks are generally bluesy slow-paced numbers but nothing to write home about, though there’s a slight foray into some nice funky rhythms on ‘Coronation’ and ‘Ground’ where drummer Johnathan Blake breathes some life back into proceedings.
‘The Isle’ lifts the mood with some serene and undulating lines in unison from Altura and Turner, which nicely set up Harrell’s trumpet to converse with the ambient guitar. Turner’s solo later in the tune is a highlight as he explores his top range with supreme control and clarity.
The session concludes with’ ‘Taurus’, which is another hip Hard-Bop excursion. It simmers and rattles into a chaotic maelstrom where you don’t know which way is up and you’re lost and bewildered. The piercing screeches of the subway rails literally sound as if to say this is only the beginning.
Overall, the album feels a little over-long but is well worth a listen, especially if you’re a fan of 60s era Hard-Bop as everyone gives a top-notch performance.