Jazz used to be a form of popular music, and indeed a folk music in its own right, before bebop intellectualized it and hard bop institutionalized it. That was a sad development in a way because the music drifted away from the public and ended up holed up in a tiny "art music" niche. When free jazz hit in the '60s, there was no mistaking that jazz would never really go back.
Guitarist Adam Rogers is committed to making serious music for serious listeners. His debut, Art of the Invisible (Criss Cross, 2002), brought an already active sideman to the full attention of the jazz world, and the new quintet disc Allegory offers music of a similarly high caliber. Rogers is a traditionalist in every sense, whether it be in his playing, his group concept, or his compositions (all originals here), but the state of the jazz tradition is an advanced one indeed at this point. Modern jazz, as a category or just a plain description, works as good as any when it comes to describing Allegory.
Rogers paces his compositions. "Genghis" works through arranged melodic phrases (mostly consisting of his instrument placed carefully alongside Chris Potter's tenor sax), loose reunions (more flexible and open), and explicit soloing (Rogers swinging bumpily along, almost funky but not quite there). He makes a conscious use of different meters: three, four, five, six, and seven are all featured on the record, sometimes in the same piece. The band sticks together through the changes, hiding them away and maintaining forward motion. "Orpheus" goes from six to seven and back, taking advantage of Rogers' switch to nylon to reinforce a pensive mood before the piece shifts to a higher gear.
Other than Rogers, the most forward voices on this record belong to saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Scott Colley. Potter is responsible for most of the edgy feel when the music turns energetic, and Colley has a way of judiciously placing notes into various situations in order to round out harmonies and anchor the music.
The very same seriousness that gives Allegory its heft ironically subtracts from its effectiveness. Melodies are so focused that they rarely stick in your mind, the various changes in the music are abstract beyond ready comprehension, and the playing is so under control that it never really flies free. (Chris Potter provides just about all of the exceptions.)
I guess Adam Rogers has become too sophisticated for his own good. He's obviously talented in just about every respect, but I just wish he would loosen up and get a little closer to the real roots of the music, a place where regular people can pick up the message without putting on a heavy thinking cap and listening over and over again. Could just be me...
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Personnel: Adam Rogers, guitar; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Edward Simon: piano; Scott Colley: bass; Clarence Penn: