A label hop for any artist can usually be a good indicator of a change in sound to come - whether it be a bigger budget, a glossier production, a change in band, a change in style, or more – and it can as many times mean a development for the worst as it can be for the best. With J.D. Allen however, though he may have left regular home Sunnyside for the newer (and bigger) Savant, he takes his usual band with him again lays down some audio dynamite.
The music on ‘The Matador And The Bull’ further shows Allen’s move from more straight-ahead bop (and post-bop) into more open and adventurous musical endeavours. Not that the words open or adventurous should scare anyone off. Far from being free or avant-garde, the results here are concise (all but two tracks fall under the four minute mark), listenable, richly melodic and always highly enjoyable.
The album kicks off in fine style, and throughout there is a strong theme of the bullfight, in the same way that Grant Green conveyed the fight with the similarly themed ‘The Matador’. But where that album had McCoy Tyner’s rolling piano providing the insistent Spanish rhythm, here Allen uses just his backing bass and drums team, and they rise masterfully to that challenge.
As usual the work as a whole is what is important, with all the individual pieces contributing to create more. ‘Cathedral’ possesses a dark atmosphere that is counterparted by ‘Paseillo’ and it’s more light rhythm. And whereas ‘Santa Maria’ hangs loose and free, ‘Ring Shout!’ is tight and driving. And despite the Latin title of the album, Allen rarely decides to play an obviously ‘Latin’ sound – avoiding any overt Spanish clichés, and in fact only playing with a slight accent on one or two numbers.
As usual Allen, despite his name holding the album, shares equal space here with his two cohorts Gregg August and Rudy Royston. And every member of the team is clearly a master of improvisation, with both longer passages and shorter flashes or inspiration showing what each is more than capable of doing - and doing so with laser-like precision. There are no wasted moments here, or long-winding noodles that go nowhere. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear a saxophone trio where each member is contributing equally to the sound of the group, rather than just two players backing a lead, then this is where you should look.
For many jazz artists, smaller outfits are usually formed out of necessity, the dual concerns of personal commitments and finances, and indeed many performers expand their line-up as soon as the money starts to roll in – for better or for worse. The better comes from when an artist is able to fully realise the sounds they hear in their head with a greater musical palette, and the worse comes from when the artist smothers their music with too many instruments from said palette, or drowns out their own distinct voice with too many others. For Allen though this appears not to be a concern. He is constantly exploring the intricacies and interplay of the trio, and always endeavours to find new ways to express himself, and each further work from him is another winning success that leaves you hungry for more.