Tom Harrell is one of the most compelling, captivating and creative trumpeters on the current jazz scene. He put in time with Stan Kenton, Horace Silver, Bill Evans and Phil Woods before going it alone, first in the studio and then with his own touring bands. Wise Children
, though it retains the characteristic cutting lines and mellow tone that have been a hallmark of each of his nearly 20 albums, offers a different take on what has become a standard Tom Harrell album. The four vocalists who guest here certainly add to that new view.
The opening "Paz," with its gypsy flavor, sets the pace and announces that this will be a departure from Harrell efforts of the past. A large horn band combines with strings and percussion in a beautiful pastiche. The following number, with Dianne Reeves on vocals, is a ballad that might work on lite jazz or adult contemporary formats. The gorgeous "Kalimba" is infused with equal parts African and Latin jazz dialects and "Radiant Moon," with a superb vocal workout by the wonderful Claudia Acuna is mesmerizing. This is followed in turn by the funky "What Will They Think of Next" and "Snow," a number most remarkable for its delicacy and Jane Monheit’s lovely vocals.
"Heavens" sounds like it’s straight out of Cuba by way of Quincy Jones. "See You At Seven" is another funky piece, though by no means does this indicate an abandonment of the always standup work of the leader or his estimable sidemen. Jimmy Greene, whose tenor work sparkles throughout, is especially impressive here, as is drummer Quincy Davis. On "Leaves," The always impressive Cassandra Wilson graces the composition with incomparable vocal work that may surprise her fans. She moves into the low register and doesn’t come out. The closing title piece is cinematic in an almost Mingus-esque way. The composition and arrangement, with its splendid horn voicing, is brilliant. Each number, composed by Harrell, features his stellar trumpet or flugelhorn and each offers a glimpse into a different aspect of the composer/player. Very nice work.