Tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen nails it again | Bleader

Tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen nails it again


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J.D. Allen
  • J.D. Allen
On Thursday trumpeter Jeremy Pelt begins a four-night stand at the Jazz Showcase with his excellent quintet. The group is strong, and all the members are bandleaders in their own right, including superb tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen. Next Tuesday Allen's trio with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston releases its fourth album, The Matador and the Bull (Savant).

Over the past four years they've emerged as arguably one of the best saxophone trios in jazz, with a crisp, direct, and malleable sound. Sonny Rollins may have done the most to establish the template for this difficult instrumental formation, but Allen's sound borrows more from John Coltrane, though he's concise in a way that Trane abandoned in his exhaustive, seeking solos—all but two of the 12 tracks on The Matador and the Bull are shorter than four minutes. Allen and his cohorts have plenty to say within those confines, though, and they've never sounded more tapped into one another than they do here.

The themes are clear, but that's not to say the trio's playing is simple (in fact, on some of the tunes the players work simultaneously in different time signatures). "Ring Shout!" works like an obstacle course with its churning, high-velocity groove and zigzagging melody, while the ferociously swinging "Paseillo" combines a timeless, straightforward tune—including an unexpectedly effective quote from "When the Saints Go Marching In"—with Royston toggling between fleet propulsion and a frenetic, ever-changing carpet of beats. Allen brings a sorrowful, keening quality to the dark ballad "Vuelva (the Whisperer)," while Royston's splattery cymbal work and the hurtling thrum of August's pizzicato add tension and space without impeding the overall flow—by and large when the players engage in technical acrobatics, they do little to draw attention to themselves. Below you can check out "Pinyin."

Today's playlist:

Helen Sung, (re)Conception (Steeplechase)
Eli Keszler, Oxtirn Live (R.E.L.)
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew Live (Columbia/Legacy)
Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)
Cian Nugent, Doubles (VHF)

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