JD Allen, an authoritative saxophonist who plays with a distinct Coltrane vibe, makes consistently great albums, most in a trio setting. Americana: Musings On Jazz and Blues (Savant) is a passion project that’s rich and affecting, and it’s likely Allen’s best. His seven originals (and two others) are steeped in tradition yet filtered through Allen’s progressive interpretation of the form. His horn sports a vintage sound on “Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil,” testifying over a loping, walking bass line and the kind of busy, talking-book percussion Elvin Jones used to back Trane with. Having worked on previous records with bassist Gregg August and the jubilant drummer Rudy Royston, the trio plays as a tight, free-flowing unit with endlessly inventive phrasing. Allen’s stories are a mix of hard truths (a sobering 1930s standard “Another Man Done Gone”) and good times –“Lightnin” swings brightly, as persuasive a blues dance track as it can be. Notably, this deftly engineered album is recorded up-close and personal, which gives the music a warm, vivid intimacy. (9 tracks; 45 minutes)
Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi muscles his way through Rigamaroll, his tenth recording for the Savant label, with an improvisational surge that’s sonically thrilling. Continue reading
An irresistible jazz and blues singer, Los Angeles-based Barbara Morrison follows up last year’s A Sunday Kind Of Love (Savant) with a looser and superior effort, I Love You, Yes I Do, that cements her status as one of the best song stylists of the day. Once again, she’s produced and joined by grand tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who mixes things up by pairing Morrison with her LA trio featuring the sparkling pianist Stuart Elster, bassist Richard Simon and Lee Spath on drums. The set list has a deliberate gospel tinge – even The Beatles’ “And I Love Him” suggests a higher power — yet Morrison’s bluesy, swinging delivery, a combination of grit and poetry, make renditions of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Trust In Me” and the title track absolutely stellar. She’s intrepid enough to weave songs from the 40’s to the 70’s with an authoritative confidence and her black-tie accompaniment kills with a combination of professional elegance and gutsy lyricism. You’ll adore Morrison and company’s takes on “Save Your Love For Me” and the Eisley’s “For The Love Of You,” but there’s more to love when Morrison digs into less familiar material. (12 tracks; 59 minutes)
Philadelphia-born pianist Eric Reed grew up playing in his father’s storefront Baptist church and was discovered to be a child prodigy at age two. He was steered away from gospel and church music to classical, but dug jazz so much after hearing Art Tatum and Ramsey Lewis that he devoted himself to a different kind of soul music. He recounts in his bio that “I wasn’t interested in practicing Bach; I was too busy digging Horace Silver!” Fast forward to a call from Wynton Marsalis inviting Reed to tour with his band, a gig that lasted from 1990- 1995 and established the pianist as a first-rate player, bandleader and educator as well an artist with more than 25 solo recordings to his credit.
Less a tribute recording than a jumping off point for pianist Eric Reed’s immutable talent, “The Dancing Monk”(Savant Records), is proof positive that there’s limitless invention in the music of Thelonious Monk. Armed with a perceptive trio, Reed’s nuanced gospel-tinged riffs light up swinging versions of “Eronel” and “Pannonica,” each punctuated by Ben Wolfe’s just-right bass lines. A cluster of introspective ballads (“Reflections,” “Light Blue,” “Ruby, My Dear”) threaten to dampen Reed’s program, but the insertion of clever quotes, like when Reed slips in a bar from “Everything Happens To Me,” keeps drawing you back into the music. Reed discovers a breezy samba in “Ugly Beauty” and turns the sole original – the title cut – into a giddy hard-hitting romp thanks to drummer McClenty Hunter. In the liner notes, Reed points to Monk’s tenacity to swing, and “The Dancing Monk” underscores this commitment through Reed’s blue-eyed notes crossed with jump-up melodies. (10 tracks; 49:33 minutes)