December 12, 2006
Chuck Berg, CJ ENTERTAINMENT
June 19, 2006
-- Doug Ramsey, RIFFTIDES
-- Dave Gelly, METRO, London
-- Robert Shore, Metro (London)
Allen, Ronnie Scott's Club
-- Jack Massarick, Evening Standard, London
"Had he been born 40 years earlier (rather than in 1966), he would have been one of the major stars of Jazz at the Philharmonic, giving Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet some sleepless nights."
-- Will Friedwald, The New York Sun
The masters of the past
may have left this planet, but the masters of tomorrow are here. Harry
Allen, twenty-eight, is one of them. Harry Allen has brought back the
smooth but fiery, ever-so-missed tenor sound of the 1930s and 1940s. He
has a focused yet warm tone that grabs you from the first bars of Linger
Awhile. You want ballads? You want bebop? You got it! This CD is real,
and the artists are genuine. Get it!
A Tale of Two Tenors. I have been trying to determine what these two releases have in common. Damn little I finally decided... with the exception that they are both tenor-led dates. I have been listening to them together and decided to write about them together. I figured that the juxtaposition of the two would elicit some interesting thoughts, kind of like Charles Ives pitting two brass bands against one another playing different songs.Harry Allen and David Murray are vastly different talents. Allen is a chronicler of an earlier saxophone style, a practitioner of such dense talent he sounds as if he invented tenor saxophone performance instead of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Allen is the Frank Sinatra of the tenor saxophone: a master interpreter of standards and content to be so. David Murray, on the other hand, is an omnivorous trailblazer, redefining the big band, solo performance, and tenor-organ combo on his 70 plus releases. What is the moral of this story so far? It is that there is plenty of room under the jazz tent for everyone, and the art of jazz is the better for it.
Stan, Al, and Zoot. After several listens, I was able to identify what I liked the most about The King. It is the total absence of John Coltrane (no offense to that legacy). This disc (my first encounter with Allen) struck me as a tenor talent like, but greater than, that of Scott Hamilton's. The King, subtitled as Jazz at the Amerika Haus Hamburg - Volume 1 (I look forward to subsequent volumes) is a live collection of standards that include very fresh, straight performances of "But Beautiful", "Honeysuckle Rose", and "Limehouse Blues". His tone is nothing short of beautiful. A totally original blending of Stan Getz, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims with a smattering of Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves, Allen's tone is brisk and clean. Allen's support in pianist John Bunch, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Duffy Jackson is crisp and practiced. I can only hope that providence smiles on me and sees that more music like this is sent to me. Superb, just plain superb.
Go West Young Man. David Murray has been living in Europe, making his way to the states to appear and record. He has recorded every setting: big band to solo saxophone. He is equally adept on tenor and bass clarinet. Here, he assembles a little big band and blows through some absolute genius arrangements of songs by and associated with John Coltrane. Not content to imitate, Murray takes these Coltrane canvases and reframe them in a larger than quartet setting with superb results. The disc is contained between two monumental bookends: the swirling dynamo of "Giant Steps" and the primal spirituality of "Acknowledgement" from A Love Supreme. He blows with dangerous abandon, always hitting his mark while sounding that he at any moment will lose control. Kudos to 'bone player Craig Harris for a super recital. Within lies the spirit of John Coltrane, sensibly interpreted by David Murray.
These two discs sum up the state of the tenor in the year 2000. I can only hope that both of these exceptional artists continue their diverging pilgrimages, providing we listens with delights for years to come.
- C. Michael Bailey
This Christmas jazz release
was released in Japan by BMG. The excellent swing tenor Harry Allen
(whose tone is reminiscent of Stan Getz ) is heard in a quartet
with organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein ,
and drummer Jake Hanna. Sticking mostly to familiar Christmas songs,
Allen swings his way through such tunes as "Santa Claus Is Coming
to Town," "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," and "Winter Wonderland," with
John Pizzarelli taking a guest vocal on "Blue Christmas." This
is a warm and accessible album that has its appeal beyond the jazz audience,
although it will be difficult to locate in the U.S.
Guitarist Howard Alden and his East Coast All-Stars are always a popular draw at the Jubilee but when tenor saxophonist Harry Allen was added to the already pulsating septet, Alden's stock quadrupled in value. The addition of Allen to the fold provided just the right ingredient to give the East Coast All-Stars a more robust sound and swinging drive. That is not to take anything away from clarinet great Allan Vache, who, for many years has been part of Alden's aggregation at the Jubilee. Vache performed at this year's jazz fest as a special guest star.
has been said that as a reed- man, Allen lives up to Stan Getz's ideal:
"My technique, Al Cohn's ideas and Zoot's (Sims) time. The fulfillment
of that ideal may be embodied in Harry Allen." Allen's lyrical ideas flowed
like fine wine in simplistic and traditional straight-ahead fashion and
was void of any undo pretense. His tone is light, yet well-rounded, embodied
with a fluency and fertility of imagination. The bottom line is this cat
swings and swings hard no matter what the tempo. As a leader in his own
right, Allen has recorded ten CDs in the past eight years (His current
album, Here's To Zoot, on the
BMG label, was released in March). We hope Harry Allen will be a regular
at the Jubilee in future years. In addition to Alden and Allen, The East
Coast All Stars included Johnny Varro, piano; Phil Flanigan, bass; Randy
Reinhart, cornet; Joel Helleny, trombone; Jake Hanna, drums, who, by the
way, is the 2002 Jubilee Emperor; and Terrie Richards Alden, featured
Christmas in Swingtime (Koch
Jazz). Mr. Allen, a young, traditional, swing-oriented tenor saxophonist,
plays the expected numbers ("O Christmas Tree," "White Christmas," etc.),
with a band that includes the organist Larry Goldings and the guitarist
Peter Bernstein. These songs are thoughtful versions, slow, smoky, and
in Swingtime (Koch Jazz). Tenor saxist Allen serves up solid renditions
of such seasonal -- at times, overfamiliar -- songs as "Winter Wonderland"
and "Let it Snow." The album rises to more inspired heights on two ballads
he poignantly interprets, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and
"I'll Be Home for Christmas," and on guest John Pizzarelli's cozy -- and
swinging -- vocal rendition of "Blue Christmas."
Christmas in Swingtime, Koch Jazz. Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, his sound and method resonating with the sound of Stan Getz, the drive of Zoot Sims and a sprinkling of Ben Webster's sensuality, takes on a program dominated by familiar themes -- "O Christmas Tree," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (done in a Coltrane-esque 6/4) and "Winter Wonderland," among others.
not a lot that can go wrong with a group that includes organist Larry
Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein, drummer Jake Hanna and, singing the
vocal on "Blue Christmas," John Pizzarelli. And nothing does. Setting
aside the seasonal program, this is simply a fine, straight-ahead jazz
outing. The only thing missing are Alan and Marilyn Bergman's words to
Johnny Mandel's tune for "A Christmas Love Song." Too bad Pizzarelli couldn't
have been kept in the studio long enough to make the number more complete.
In Swingtime (BMG BVCJ-34011; 68:30) **** Getzian tenorist Allen,
organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Jake Hanna
nail the seasonal favorites. "Let It Snow!" sports Allen's pale-lager
tone and sure-footed swing, along with Golding's resonant sound and fluid
lines. On "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Bernstein's subtly gleaming tone
and just-so statements stand out. The tender "White Christmas" is achingly
slow, while John Pizzarelli's vocal on "Blue Christmas" has an upbeat
may be sick of hearing it, but for anyone who desperately misses Stan
Getz, Allen - despite the burr he likes to put on his sound - is an answered
prayer, a lyrical and engagingly rhythmic player who almost always cuts
to the chase. He's here to promote Christmas in Swingtime
(Koch), a fine seasonal ornament, but it you want to hear him cut
loose, check out Allan and Allen (Nagel-Heyer), with
clarinetist Allan Vache and pianist Eddie Higgins.
Allen had made the kind of Christmas album that can be listened to all
year round. A tenor saxophonist out of the swing-to-bob Stan Getz school,
Allen is a lyrical stylist who loves presenting a good melody and then
adding his own beautifully constructed variations. While there are few
surprises in his holiday repertoire -- you can't go wrong with such treasures
as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas,"
and "White Christmas" -- Allen does throw a curve ball when it comes to
the instrumentation of his accompanying ensemble. Where a horn and classic
piano-bass-drums rhythm section might be expected, Allen has replaced
it with a lean organ-guitar and drums combo. Larry Goldings does a stellar
job holding down the keyboard parts, while Peter Bernstein shines on guitar
and the impeccable Jake Hanna keeps it all swinging on drums. (John Pizzarelli
turns in a neat vocal on "Blue Christmas.") A contemporary classic, Christmas
in Swingtime is a holiday gift for any jazz lover.
Harry Allen plays with such a smooth tone, guitarist Peter Bernstein picks
with such gentle suavity, Jake Hanna's drumming is so tight and organist
Larry Goldings has such a butter-soft touch that Christmas
in Swingtime almost lulled Herbie the Crabby Drunken Elf into
thinking he liked Xmas music. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is rescued
from Bruce Springsteen in a supremely lyrical reading, and "Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer" is Lee Morgan-funky. Get this off before I begin to
like it! And pour me another Tom Collins!
Saxophonist Harry Allen
gets into the swing of things.
Proving that jazz musicians playing Christmas music
can fall somewhere left of smooth or traditional, saxophonist Harry Allen
crafts a gem in Christmas In Swingtime (Koch
Jazz). All the expected classics are here: "O Christmas Tree," "Santa
Claus Is Coming to Town," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "White Christmas."
Yet Allen and a trio of aces employ a fresh approach. Drummer Jake Hanna
provides a metronomic pendulum throughout, guitarist Peter Bernstein exudes
a minimalistic cool, and guest John Pizzarelli sings the only non-instrumental,
"Blue Christmas." But it's Hammond-organ master Larry Goldings who most
inspires Allen and refreshes tracks like "Winter Wonderland" (featured),
playing bebop solos and harmonies, and R&B-infused chords and melodies.
In Swingtime by Harry Allen (Koch) --Sometimes,
a holiday album can be an opportunity, not just an obligation. Allen is
a young (mid thirties) tenor saxophonist who's been lauded by the likes
of Michael Brecker and Bucky Pizzarelli (who gave Allen his first pro
gig as a sub for Zoot Sims). But he's never become a household name outside
of other musician's houses. Can a holiday album be a breakthrough? Maybe.
As the title implies, Allen swings here, but softly. His versions of 10
classics ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," etc.) are clear as a glass
tree ornament and as tart as hot apple cider. www.kochint.com
Christmas in Swingtime --
Saving the absolute best for last, Tenor Saxophonist Harry Allen has recorded
as fine a jazz holiday disc as one could hope for. Instead of opting for
the traditional jazz quartet of piano, bass, and drums, Allen instead
employees the neo-funk stylings of Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein
in a tenor-Hammond B-3-guitar roadhouse combination that is as turkey
and dressing as it is collard greens and ham hocks. Allen is relaxed and
plays empathetically with Goldings and Bernstein. The result is Christmas
on the Chitlin' Circuit. "Oh Christmas Tree" is a swinging romp and "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" begins as an eggnog ballad with a light,
churchy organ intro from Goldings and ends with a Harry Allen Bill Haley
and the Comets. John Pizzarelli is on hand to sing "Blue Christmas" and
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" is taken at a "My Favorite Things" 3/4
time pace. This recording is not simply pleasant versions of carols in
a jazz vein, it is very fine jazz. Everyone hits their stride on the disc.
Although it was recorded in New York City, the liner notes for this splendid holiday release by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen are in Japanese, an indication that it was not necessarily aimed at a domestic audience but one that is somewhat farther east. What's more, the copy I have is on the BMG label while the accompanying press release is from Koch Jazz, which, presumably, obtained the distribution rights from BMG (and has provided an English translation of Dan Polletta's notes). Are you following me so far? Good. There'll be a pop quiz later. Allen, who turned thirty-five in October (happy birthday, Harry), is a throwback to an earlier era in which lyricism and a lovely sound reigned supreme, and his influences range from Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster to Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn and, among his contemporaries, Scott Hamilton. To these ears, he sounds most like Getz with Zoot's unerring sense of time. What's important, of course, is that Allen swings under any and all conditions including seasonal. When it comes to Jazz, there's little difference between Christmas songs and others; they're all comprised of chord changes, and once one knows the changes he can treat them like any other number, which is what Allen and his talented colleagues do here. After stating the melody they take the song wherever it leads them, which is invariably along a most picturesque and agreeable byway. Larry Goldings, who's also an excellent pianist, stays with the Hammond on this date. He and mellow guitarist Peter Bernstein obviate the need for a bassist while drummer Jake Hanna is a model of taste and proficiency. The quartet is augmented on one number, "Blue Christmas," by vocalist John Pizzarelli who sounds rather like a latter-day version of Chet Baker. Most of these tunes should be immediately familiar to anyone who's not been sequestered in a cave, the possible exception being Johnny Mandel's "Christmas Love Song," which closes the album. There's one bona fide "burner," the traditional carol "Ding! Dong! Merry on High," on which everyone is in an exuberant holiday mood. The rest is slow to medium but no less earnest. If you can envision Stan Getz playing carols and other seasonal fare you'll have a reasonably accurate idea of what to expect from Christmas in Swingtime.
Harry Allen / Christmas in Swingtime: A right on tenor sax Christmas is on tap here. Allen is on point in giving these chestnuts a new set of legs and igniting some new, dormant warmth to bring them back into focus. Letting the sax do the singing, he has the luxury of moving the set card into diverse areas that keep within the holiday but bring in modes and textures that don't always come together. Sweet.
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