Sunday, 23 December 2012

Review: JD Allen Trio - Victory!

Review #1 was a classic, so we thought we'd go with something more contemporary for #2. So here it is, 'Victory!' from one of the very best tenor sax players out there right now, JD Allen.

Album number three for JD Allen’s trio, with this being his fifth overall as leader, and if previous offerings hadn’t already convinced of the tight groups superior musicality, then ‘Victory!’ surely is just that – a winningly melodic and exhilaratingly unique statement that highlights both its leaders crystal clear focus and his ultimately warm and growing charm.

While many would like to make easy comparisons between Allen and famous looming shadows like John  Coltrane, or perhaps more so Sonny Rollins (who for many near-almost owns the sax-bass-drums trio format), they would be entirely wrong. Throughout ‘Victory!’ Allen plays with lean muscularity and keeps things direct, favouring an album made up of a larger number of concise pieces, with most falling under the four minute mark and many even coming in less than three minutes.

His cohorts too, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, play with muscle and skill, and keep things punchy and brief. But most importantly all three men work together brilliantly to form one very tight and deftly musical group. Each player contributes their individual personalities to the group effort and help ensure that each statement delivers a clear intense burst before moving onto something else new.

Here we get sheer unadulterated swing, more groove-based numbers and even some Eastern-leaning sounds that all reference some of the best of the past tradition but makes it all the trio’s own. Best of all though, we get a superb line in thick smokily seductive mood music that’s sure to become his signature sound – or at least one of many.

Crucially too, Allen’s two strongest assets are here in absolute abundance; his skillful and hook-laden writing, and that big beautiful tenor tone. And they gel together here perfectly.

Many artists, and especially those in the jazz field, often enjoy changing or developing their sound through reconfiguring, expanding or even shrinking their line-ups, and while that can frequently yield strong results, sometimes it does the exact opposite. The best developments though can sometimes be the ones that come through evolving and enriching a proven formula. And that is what Allen is clearly doing here. His most-favoured unit has developed, and continues to build a unique identity that has only gone from strength to strength and surely will only get better with time. Without a doubt ‘Victory!’ is the strongest offering yet from one of the strongest players out there right now.


Monday, 17 December 2012

Review: Grant Green - Idle Moments

So after a long time of trying to get a blog, twitter account and website set up, I've decided to just jump in and get posting. And when the site is in a half-decent state, to go live with it then. In the mean time, some of my writings and opinion pieces go straight here. So what better way to kick off than with one of my favourite musicians, and one of the jazz worlds more deserving of higher praise and notice - Grant Green.

Grant Green is known mostly today as a great source of samples for a variety of acid jazz and dance aficionados  largely because of the records he made during the ‘second half of his career’ – groove based rhythm and funk work that earned derisory comments from the jazz crowd, but gained some nods of approval from the younger funk crowd. Funk came easy and naturally to Green, almost as if it was already part of him all along, and he made some deeply grooveable albums. A side-effect of this is that it is often forgotten that he could also be a straight jazz and blues player, and a master of richly melodic improvisation to sometimes rival even even that of the great Wes Montgomery.

There are a good few strong contenders for the title of Greens greatest straight jazz album, including his debut ‘Grants First Stand’ and the excellent ‘Street Of Dreams’. But without a doubt the absolutely best ‘pure’ jazz album he made, was ‘Idle Moments’ in 1963.

Made up of just four tracks, the title piece and ‘Nomad’ both come in over ten minutes, at 14:56 and 12:16 respectively, whereas ‘Jean De Fleur’ and The Modern Jazz Quartet's ‘Django’ are comparatively shorter pieces. All four though are exceptional.

‘Jean De Fleur’ and ‘Django’ were actually recorded in two versions, with the shorter, second versions appearing on the original album. The reason for this was the fact that the breathtaking ‘Idle Moments was originally planned to be no longer than seven minutes, in order to make up the LP maximum length of forty minutes without going over the limit. However, after recording the rest of the album first, the group then, carried away with the groove and the flow, played an almost fifteen minute long version, with outstanding solos from all the players. Luckily Alfred Lion, a man known for his good ear, rather than aborting, kept the tape running and recorded every minute. Deciding to keep this exciting development, Lion made the call to have a second session (at his own expense) where they should record more truncated takes on the other two numbers, save losing the languid beauty of the gently epic piece.

Far from being over-long or noodle-some  ‘Idle Moments’ is relaxed with a strong after-midnight atmosphere, reflecting the time of day it was recorded. And Greens solo is a languorous and lyrical cascade, creating the perfect path for Duke Pearson, Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson to follow, on piano, tenor sax and vibes respectively. It’s possibly the most serene fifteen minutes of music you will ever hear. ‘Nomad’ too manages to break the ten-minute barrier, without losing the listener, but maintaining a faster and more driving pace.

The shorter tracks are just as good however, raising and lowering the tempo expertly throughout the album. Interestingly, and very welcomely, certain releases of this album contain the longer original cuts of ‘Jean De Fleur’ and ‘Django’, with the latter being more than five whole minutes longer than the cut that made the original album. This extended version should definitely be the one to seek out, a classic recording elevated even higher.

One of those rare few recordings you can easily listen to the whole way through and then instantly hit the repeat button when it finishes and listen to all over again, it’s a classic of its kind and should be duly considered one of the best Grant Green, best Blue Note, and best jazz works ever. Essential and beautiful.

This review was originally written in 2010.
If anything this classic recording has only improved in the years since.