Lucid Culture


The JD Allen Trio Wins Big at le Poisson Rouge

A video about the JD Allen Trio and their new album VICTORY! was screened before their cd release show Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge. “I like feeling tense, so I can let it out,” the tenor saxophonist/composer revealed, and after the video was was over, proceeded to let it all out through a riveting, often white-knuckle intense show with his longtime bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Watching this unit evolve over the last four years or so has been most rewarding, not to mention entertaining – they put on a hell of a show. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal described Allen’s compositions as “postmodern,” which is ridiculous. What Allen does is a throwback to the 1950s, in the sense that he writes incredibly terse, gemlike, melodic riffs that he then expands judiciously, usually over the span of no more than four minutes, sometimes considerably less. He calls it “jukebox jazz.” And that’s what they brought onstage, driving home one hook after another with a restless, relentless power that would not let up: Allen’s jukebox is a pretty dark one.

“For me to claim victory takes a lot of balls,” Allen says in the video, but that’s simply not true. Long sought after as a sideman, Allen’s writing took on a stunning focus in 2007 with the release of his first album leading this trio, I Am I Am. A hard-hitting, bitter, chromatically charged suite that deserves to be called a classic, Allen followed it up in the summer of 2009 with the richly melodic and considerably more sunny Shine!. Like I Am I Am, VICTORY! was written as a suite – a sonata – but live, the trio made it a symphony. It’s amazing how much sound this band gets out of just three instruments, Royston’s machine-gun attack and barrage of counterintuitive, offbeat accents often more the focal point of the show than Allen himself (and a huge hit with the crowd: continuing the Elvin Jones tradition, Royston is this era’s preeminent extrovert drummer). This seems to be a deliberate choice: there were places where Allen would leave the rhythm section to themselves for a minute or two before nimbly swinging back into the fray. August’s role in this band has expanded from bad cop – he carries many of the juiciest, darkest sections of I Am I Am – to super-utility player, sometimes the center of rhythm, other times the melody, only walking frantically on a couple of occasions as Allen led them through brief but memorable, blues-infused, late 50s postbop passages.

Allen has a laserlike sense of melody, and sense of purpose, maybe one reason why the segments were so short: smartly, he segued from one to another with barely a break in between save for two occasions. Right off the bat, the band reinvented the album’s nonchalantly majestic opening track as a resolute swing piece. On a couple of occasions, Allen held down his spot indomitably, halfspeed, as the rhythm section pummeled behind him. Playing with his signature crystalline tone, he tossed off one single trill all night, took one mighty leap up the scale early in the set, but that was it for pyrotechnics: instead, he drove the tunes home methodically, one by one. And those tunes were mighty: an unexpectedly carefree, gospel-tinged swing passage about midway through, an angry, insistent series of chromatic, Middle Eastern-tinged passages later on, a wary call to arms, a brief, unexpected turn into funk, a chilling, growling bowed solo by August and finally, at the end, they seemed to snatch victory from the jaws of despair. As emcee Stanley Crouch – a big fan – pointed out before the show, ultimately this was all a victory for the music. And for those lucky enough to witness it. The JD Allen Trio’s next stand at the Vanguard kicks off August 23.

May 20, 2011 - Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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