J.D. ALLEN: LOVE STONE
Review by Andy Hamilton
Ballad projects used to be a requirement for tenor saxophonists – one of John Coltrane’s commercially most successful albums was Ballads. J. D. Allen is known as a modernist, but here he returns in some ways to tradition, with this established format. The album features longtime trio partners, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, plus guitarist Liberty Ellman. In fact it’s the trio’s second collaboration with Ellman after 2017’s Radio Flyer. Ellman is also known as an experimenter, but here shows considerable sensitivity to the tradition.
Born in Detroit, and now based in New York, Allen had a formative tenure with Betty Carter, and worked with Lester Bowie, Louis Hayes, Butch Morris and David Murray. His work is of a high quality, though perhaps this album isn’t quite pulling me in as much as his more contemporary work. He hews to a Dexter Gordon model – slow tempos and a fat sound – though with a hard, post-Coltrane edge. But then I think I’m right in saying that Gordon himself, like other saxophonists of the bebop generation, emulated the Coltrane sound in his later career. The only soloist apart from the leader is Liberty Ellman, whose approach to standard material is oblique and fragmentary.
It’s an intriguing selection of well-known and lesser known songs. Allen draws on the public domain with Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies, but otherwise it’s standard material of varying familiarity, with You’re My Thrill especially moving. A worthwhile release, that repays repeated listening.
Stranger In Paradise; Until The Real Thing Comes Along; Why Was I Born?; You’re My Thrill; Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies; Put On A Happy Face; Prisoner Of Love; Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You); Gone With The Wind (44.51)
Allen (ts); Liberty Ellman (g); Gregg August (b); Rudy Royston (d). New York, 9 January 2018.