Harry Allen Quintet: A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1
Another in a series of recent triumphs by young (27–year–old) Harry Allen whose smooth, deep–throated and swing–based tenor saxophone benefits enormously from the presence on this concert date at Hamburg, Germany’s Birdland of chameleonlike trumpeter Randy Sandke and a topnotch rhythm section — one of whose members, the superb mainstream drummer Oliver Jackson, passed away only months after this, his final recording (how fitting that his solo voice should be the last one heard, on the quintet’s blazing rendition of “The Man I Love”). Allen lists as his main influences Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves, and one can hear echoes of each one in his seemingly effortless improvisations — but as mentioned in a review of his album Jazz im Amerika Haus, Vol. 1, I still hear some Stan Getz creeping in from time to time. It’s most noticeable at faster tempos and in the higher register (as on Lester’s “Tickle Toe” or the standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”). But in spite of those influences, Allen’s voice is clearly his own, and we are richer for it. As for Sandke, he can blow anything from straight New Orleans–style trad to post–bop, and does everything well. This session is somewhere in the middle of that, and as usual, Sandke has no problem finding the proper groove and hanging with it. Dee, a facile pianist who uses both hands well, and the steady, dependable bassist Skeat lend Allen unwavering support, while Jackson, the leader’s father figure and mentor, is a model of uncompromising taste and assurance. Sandke, who employs a mute on the first two numbers, sits out on Allen’s ballad feature, Hoagy Carmichael’s enduring “Stardust,” and Allen returns the favor as Sandke plays brilliantly on “I’ve Got It Bad.” The rest of the program, like most of Allen’s recordings, consists of familiar standards from the Golden Age of American popular song. Nothing you haven’t heard many times before, but interpreted about as well as any swing–oriented group possibly could (dig, for example, the dazzlin
Track listing: My Heart Stood Still; On a Slow Boat to China; Tickle Toe; You Took Advantage of Me; Stardust; Sometimes I’m Happy; How Deep Is the Ocean; I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good; The Man I Love (77:15).
Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Brian Dee, piano; Len Skeat, bass; Oliver Jackson, drums.