Face it, if you play the tenor saxophone you're going to have to deal with the legacy of John Coltrane's sound. You can hear it in the playing of Branford Marsalis, Pharoah Sanders, and even Sonny Rollins. It is believed that Rollins was so influenced by Trane, that his style was forever changed in the 1960s. But we'll leave that argument to scholars. On I Am I Am
the thirty-something JD Allen takes on the Coltrane legacy and leaves us with a beautiful impression of, not only Coltrane, but himself.
After apprenticing with singer Betty Carter, drummers Winard Harper and Cindy Blackman, the saxophonist recorded some impressive tracks for Criss Cross records including pianist Orrin Evans' Easy Now (2005) and his own In Search Of... (1999) and Pharoah's Children (2002).
This session is a gutsy trio outing, without a piano or second horn to act as safety net. The compositions are all originals and the recording deftly negotiates a minimalist path inside and out of the Coltrane legacy.
Allen is joined by bassist Gregg August (Ray Vega, Ray Barretto) and drummer Rudy Royston (Fred Hess, Ron Miles). The three interact with intelligence on the ten tracks, six clocking in under five minutes and the longest is "Pagan" at 8:22. Allen takes on Coltrane with the meditative title track, Royston guiding the somber intro via mallets. Never taking this session into the stratosphere is the overriding wisdom of this recording. Allen remains controlled throughout. The Latin side of his playing is showcased on "Louisada" and "Ezekiel" with his flittering sound bouncing lightly across the rhythm of Royston's drumming. The trio evokes an introspective mood on "The Cross + The Crescent Sickle" with the bowed energy notes of August as Royston dances and taps the beat and Allen delivering an Eastern sounding improvisation.
This recording merely scratches the surface that is JD Allen's sound. He doles out sidelong glances in small and very satisfying measures.
Personnel: JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.