Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Saxophone

JD Allen, Americana: Musings On Jazz and Blues

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)

George Coleman, A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions)

Saxophonist George Coleman may have started his career in Memphis playing with B.B. King, but by the time he arrived in New York in 1957 to play on a jazz record for the first time with Lee Morgan (City Lights, Blue Note), his star was ascendant. His brief tenure with the Miles Davis Quintet is how many jazz fans know Coleman, but the dynamic sax player soon established his own following and estimable discography. (That’s him playing tenor on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage recording.) Now 80, Coleman betrays no sense of diminished faculty or stamina on A Master Speaks (Smoke Sessions), his first album as a leader in twenty years. His tone remains deep, burnished, husky and soulful.

The album starts with a bang – an extended arrangement of “Invitation” kicks off with a spirited Horace Silver-like riff played by pianist Mike LeDonne. It’s a fine groove that’s joined by bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer George Coleman, Jr. that Coleman, Sr. just glides into. It’s a syncopated swinger that lets his dark, smooth sax go on the prowl. Authentic in feeling, Coleman gives standards such as “The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Darn That Dream” a level of swing and class that they deserve along with a renewed melodic interest. Guitarist Peter Bernstein sits in on “Blues For B.B.” a stately Coleman original that fetes his former mentor in the most lyrical way, and the band wraps its up with a high-style, old-school jam, “Time To Get Down.” Coleman admits he doesn’t like to record much, but he loves to play. Lucky for us, A Master Speaks captures his voice in all its glory. (9 tracks; 66 minutes)

Charles Lloyd and The Marvels, I Long To See You (Blue Note)

A striking, post-bop saxophonist with an ethereal sound grounded and defined by his unique spiritualism, NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd once charted a new direction for jazz in 1965 with bandmates Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. At 78, he’s still proving that originality and populism are a perfect combination on I Long To See You, a modern jazz masterpiece with crossover appeal. Outfitted with a new band, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and called the Marvels, Lloyd has made an unexpected dream of a record, a rebirth of sorts that celebrates Bob Dylan, the blues, and ”the quantum mechanics of love,” as Lloyd says.

Unlike the sonic tapestries produced during his long tenure at ECM, Long is a combination of classic and re-imagined Lloyd originals (the swinging “Of Course, Of Course”), earthy Americana (“Shenandoah”) and chanteuse Norah Jones on a luminous “You Are So Beautiful.” The album is indeed a stirring love letter to the joys of melody, collective storytelling and the collaborative spirit of making music that will leave you spellbound. (10 tracks; 67 minutes)

Ken Fowser, Standing Tall (Posi-Tone)

After co-leading four records on the Posi-Tone label with vibraphonist Behn Gillece, tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser revs his own engine on his fast and furiously entertaining debut release, Standing Tall. A former University of the Arts student in Philadelphia, Fowser has crafted a free-wheeling gem, boldly exploring harmonic grooves and smooth, textured rhythms with a fine band that seduces on ear-friendly tracks like “Head Start,” thrills with fleet changes on “Mode For Red” and chills you out with the cool blues, “Filling In The Blanks.”

Well-conceived and spirited in execution, his quintet of up and coming players and the in-demand pianist Rick Germanson punch up his assertive compositions. Fowser not only succeeds in making a terrific modern jazz record, he brings an original, contemporary voice and a resounding agenda to swing, along with fond echoes of early jam records made by Philly greats like Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner and Prestige-era Coltrane. (12 tracks; 59 minutes)


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