Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The JD Allen Trio’s Landmark VICTORY! Out May 17

The JD Allen Trio’s new album VICTORY!, out on May 17, is one of those rare albums that stands to influence an entire generation of players. But that’s not the reason why it’s worth hearing: it’s because it’s such a good listen. Emotionally impactful and surprisingly diverse, it’s the most eclectic release so far by this extraordinary tenor sax-bass-drums unit who’ve been making potent albums since 2007. The group play the cd release show on May 18 at 7:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge.

The JD Allen Trio’s 2007 debut I AM I AM didn’t just explode out of nowhere – the tenor saxophonist and bandleader had been a sought-after sideman since the 90s. But it was an explosion, and four years later validates the fact that we called it a classic at the time. The new album seems to be the third and possibly climactic chapter of a triptych that began with I AM I AM and continued with 2009’s Shine! Allen disarmingly calls his compositions “jukebox jazz,” continuing the tradition of guys like Monk and Brubeck, whose compositions were as catchy as they were cerebral, and who sold hundreds of thousands of them as 45 RPM singles. Taking the form of a classical sonata – a theme and variations which end conclusively – the new album offers twelve succinct, interwoven compositions. With its direct, unflinchingly intense central theme which itself refers back to I AM I AM, this album takes the intensity of that album’s breakthrough suite to the next level, and on to its logical conclusion. Yet while all the rigor of I AM I AM is also in full effect here, this new album explores considerably more emotionally and musically diverse terrain. And it ends optimistically.

The title track sets the tone for much of the album, dark enigmatic minor-key gospel beauty played out against the stately insistence of the rhythm section, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Royston’s aggressive introduction offers no hint of the balmy swing that emerges on the second track, The Pilot’s Compass, Allen interjecting commentary as August pulses and Royston supplies his signature, muscular rumble. They follow with the darkly biting, minor bluesy The Thirsty Ear and then the broodingly potent, ominously modal Sura Hinda, Allen’s solemn vibrato adding extra gravitas. As on I AM I AM, August gets an enviable role to play throughout the album, notably on The Learned Tongue as he shadows Allen while the drums go rubato, or on Philippe Petit – a homage to the World Trade Center wirewalker – where his serious, bowed lines, equal part triumph and terror, balance against Royston’s playful intricacies and Allen’s calm, steely optimism.

The simply titled Motif allows Allen and Royston to take the theme further outside as August sits out. Fatima allows a playful element to creep in over Royston’s nimble shuffle; Mr. Steepy enters with unexpectedly blithe swing blues, Allen running eighth notes a la Ben Webster, Royston eventually cutting loose with a grin and crowding everyone out of the picture. The album winds up with three unexpected shifts: a Harold Arlen-esque ballad; The Hungry Eye, centered around a vividly off-center bass solo; and the final track, reprising The Pilot’s Compass and elevating it to a rare sense of joy, ending suddenly with a bit of a wink. It could be the high point in a career of a group whose trajectory is still on the upswing.

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May 10, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dave Liebman Delivers an Adrenalizing, Unexpected Trio Album

This album – titled The Dave Liebman Trio Plays the Blues a la Trane –  was in the can for awhile before Liebman might have said to himself, “Hey, why not release this?” And why not? He’s the rare artist who could probably get away with releasing pretty much everything he plays – which he may realize, because he’s pretty much been doing that lately. This set has the saxophone giant playing in a trio situation at a live date in Belgium in the spring of 2008 with Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums, an interestingly stripped-down configuration in light of Liebman’s recent, noteworthy big band work. The official story is that Liebman decided to go completely off program for this one and jam out on a series of blues by John Coltrane, or associated with him. It’s both fresh – especially for the rhythm section – and retro at the same time.

On tenor, Liebman wastes no time establishing a formidable attack, one rapidfire spiral after another on Miles Davis’ All Blues, following a late 50s Trane style, exploratory yet managing not to meander. The rhythm section quickly falls into place, Ineke with a loose, funky shuffle against Beets’ lean, fluid pulse that turns wintry and somewhat wry when it comes time for his solo toward the end. Throughout the album, they hold their places, leaving centerstage to Liebman aside from the occasional solo spot. Trane’s Up Against the Wall shuffles steadily along with a genial New Orleans swing: it’s the most straight-up number here. Mr. P.C. features a long, bright, sprightly bass solo (too low in the mix, as is the case all night, the one drawback with this album), Ineke taking a long, playful 3-on-2 solo. Liebman prowls around the minor blues scale or its edges, turning up the heat with the glissandos, but with restraint. A long, methodically crescendoing Village Blues – the one tune here with any real handoffs between the players – sees Liebman wrapping up his final soprano sax salvo unexpectedly – “OK, I’ve made my point, that’s all I’ve got to to say.” Ellington’s Take the Coltrane, tongue-in-cheek in its original version and just as jaunty here, opens with a bass solo and ends the set on an upbeat note. The album is best experienced in its entirety: as an unintended suite, it works strikingly well. It’s a must-own for Liebman fans, and Trane fans ought to enjoy this just as much, a worthwhile homage from one of the greats of this era to one from another. Liebman has an auspicious stand coming up at Birdland on February 22-26 with with his famous 80s quartet including pianist Richie Beirach, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/27/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #886:

The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am

A landmark album in modern jazz. A theme and variations with a few playful, sometimes wildly furious diversions, this tenor sax trio session was sort of the zeros counterpart to late 1950s Sonny Rollins – but better. Released at the end of 2008, Allen deftly skirts the edges of eerie, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged modal intensity, turning over the darkest shades to bassist Gregg August, who welcomes them like a vampire welcomes the night. Rudy Royston, the greatest of this era’s jazz drummers and heir to Elvin Jones’ throne, is a ferociously hard hitter, building the shape of these strikingly melodic, barely four-minute segments every bit as much as Allen does. They quote the Godfather theme and Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond and even hint at a surf music vamp when they’re not working the terse, brooding central motif from fiery riffage to understated elegiac drama. Allen’s previous and subsequent studio work is every bit as memorable and melodic but not as intense, but his live performances – especially with this rhythm section – are among the most exhilarating of any band in recent years.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment