BELOVED / ALLEN: Lowborn (Proverbs 62:9); Mandy Have Mercy; Lord Help My Unbelief; Flores; One for Rory; Bird Bailey; Beloved (for Jen); Hate the Game; More Yeah; Threequel / Kris Allen, a-sax/s-sax; Frank Kozyra, t-sax; Luques Curtis, bs; Jonathan Barber, dm. / Truth Revolution Records (no number, available as high-quality mp3 or FLAC downloads)
Saxophonist Kris Allen, a protégé of Jackie McLean, presents here his second album consisting entirely of originals. In the press release for this collection, Allen is quoted as saying that “art has a positive role in society, even if it’s a subtle influence, of the spirit. I think music can help you connect to the best aspect of yourself.” I suppose this works for him in a self-fulfilling manner, because the music presented herein certainly has a joyous feel to it.
Allen’s music is rooted in the bop style that McLean came out of, filtered through a use of polyrhythms and his own style of tune construction. Many of the pieces on this album have not merely elusive but also brief themes, one might almost say motifs, that are briefly stated as such before the band members launch into their improvisations. At least tonally, Allen sounds a great deal like his mentor, who died in 2006, but his improvs have their own stamp and style. Harmonically Allen is fairly conservative, staying within the tonal system albeit with interesting changes. Both Allen and tenor saxist Kozyra have full, beautiful tones, which helps a great deal in enhancing the attractiveness of both the music and its presentation; overall, this is a good blowing session with structured opening and closing choruses as well as good bridge passages.
In Mandy Have Mercy, for instance, it’s difficult to tell just from listening how much of the music is written. Particularly interesting to me is the section in which Curtis solos on bass with interjections by the two saxes. This sounds at least planned if not written, but without having seen the score you really can’t tell; this might have come about as the result of woodshedding on the piece prior to recording. Barber is a fine drummer who understand his role, keeps a steady pulse regardless of the tempo changes or rhythmic shifts, and balances his playing between understatement and adding to the ongoing process via well-placed offbeats that help kick the rhythm into new places as the horns are soloing in front of him.
Lord Help My Unbelief is one of the more interesting compositions on the album, being in ballad tempo yet sounding nothing like a ballad. The tune is slow and sinuous, hovering on the edge of the dominant 7th without ever really using that chord to morph into something different. Allen and the band uses the slow pace to allow more psace into the music, though ironically Barber’s solo here is among his busiest, doubling the tempo and thus shifting the pace. Interestingly, he uses this tempo shift to continue seamlessly into Flores, thus giving the illusion of a continuous piece in two tempos. Bassist Curtis enters, maintaining this faster tempo, which then continues in once the two saxes begin playing. (While reviewing this I didn’t have my eye on the tracks, thus initially I thought that Flores was the second half, in a new tempo, of Lord Help.)
One for Rory, written for Allen’s nine-year-old daughter, has really complex changes which in turn influence the slightly Ornette Coleman-sounding melody, but with Allen’s own feel for rhythm. Essentially it’s in 4 but with tricky and subtle rhythmic displacements to bring the listener into his “kitchen,” so to speak. By 2:55, even if you’re counting, you may find yourself rhythmically “displaced” by the complicated beat-shifting going on within this piece, although once the sax solos start we’re back in a steady and discernible 4. This is one of the real glories of Allen’ band, this feeling that you’re not standing on solid ground but on quicksand as the rhythms never quite go the way you expect them to. In the latter section of this tune, the rising sax cadences once again channel the ghost of Ornette, and continues in this vein during the ride-out figures.
Allen switches to soprano sax for Bird Bailey, a peroration on Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey? as played by Cannonball Adderly with Ernie Andrews in which he quoted a little of Charlie Parker’s Cheryl. The Bird reference is included in the tune presented here. Indeed, this sounds the most “Fifties-ish” of all the pieces on this album with its wry combination of bop and swing elements. (As I had just been listening to live airchecks of Bird with Lennie Tristano a few days earlier, which included their fantastic rendition of Tiger Rag, I was reminded of their tongue-in-cheek rendition while listening to this piece.) Bassist Curtis, to a certain extent, sounds a bit here like Oscar Pettiford to my ears.
Beloved, composed for Allen’s wife, is another slow tempo piece, but this one has a much more ballad-like feel. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but in its tune I heard an allusion to Til There Was You, although it is indeed a fleeting reference (you can hear it treutn again at 4:32). Allen’s alto solo dominates the proceedings here, with bass and drums underpinning him in their own ubiquitous way. Hate the Game returns us to the rhythmic-melodic world of Ornette…I have a sneaking feeling that Allen liked him almost as much as his mentor McLean. Allen’s twist here is his fascinating and complex use of counterpoint with tenor saxist Kozyra, a sort of extended chase chorus. Despite its title, More Yeah is more ballad-like material, this time simpler in construction albeit with his usual tempo shifting within measures.
Threequel is based on Mulgrew Miller’s The Sequel, and thus is one of the most boppish lines on the album. Allen and his band, however, keep the volume level at medium here, giving one the feeling of capping a geyser. It does, however, make an excellent finale to this interesting album, one well worth exploring.
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley