Harry Allen Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Harry Allen Quartet


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Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young: for all intents and purposes, the history of the tenor saxophone begins with these two dialectical opposites, whom the players of the 1940s drew upon in creating a tenor tradition that would serve jazz for the quarter century. Hawkins was the thesis, with his swaggering tone, pronounced vibrato, straightforward rhythms, and richly complicated harmonies; Young's style--characterized by its rhythmic boldness and streamlined approach to harmony, its light yearning tone devoid of hot-jazz melodrama--posed the antithesis. The synthesis arrived when players from Illinois Jacquet and Dexter Gordon to Zoot Sims and Al Cohn began drawing from both fountainheads; and Harry Allen would have fit right in with the rest. Barely in his 30s, Allen plays as if America was in its 30s, leaning right into the older phraseology and timbre like a kitten cozying up to its mother; often enough he "modernizes" his improvisations with a nod to Stan Getz, the greatest of Lester Young's musical progeny but himself a product of the 40s and 50s. (In other words, if you think the scads of wannabeboppers fall into the "retro" camp--with their studious re-creations of the sound and style of the 1950s hard bop--you ain't heard nothin' yet.) But unlike the first recordings of Scott Hamilton, his similarly oriented recent predecessor, Allen plays less like a slave to the past and more like a genuine anachronism--literally something "out of its time." His music sounds old but fresh. For that, you can credit his heartfelt commitment to pure melody and his technical command of this gracious, cantabile approach to the tenor sax. Tuesday through next Sunday, November 19, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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