Having attempted to play the guitar, I have a special place in my heart for guitarists, especially when in the aural presence of a master like Dave Allen, who brings to mind the ironic cartoon where one guitarist is watching another play and the bubble says, "I can do that.
Many guitarists come out of schools like Berklee with blazing technique, but they pale to the ear quickly when you realize technique is all there is. Allen has no seeming limit to his technique, but he always puts it to good musical ends. His lines are full of twists and turns, but I always hear thought and emotion, not just flying fingers. His music feels very laid back, so much so that at times I found myself wishing for some more bite; but on the other hand, Allen is a master of playing a line with chordal accompaniment, often sounding like two independent instruments.
All of the tunes on Untold Stories are composed by Allen, who proves himself to be quite a melodic composer. A number of tracks, including "In Some Human City, "Paradigm Shift, and "Out Of The Trap, have melodies that etched themselves in my mind. The music is full of subtlety, and neither the melodic phrasing nor the harmony is overtly obvious.
Including Seamus Blake on five tracks was a good decision, because it enables Allen to have someone to play against and comp under. Blake adds much spice and a countering sharper edge to Allen's mellow guitar sound. While Allen never really "battles Blake, which would have been nice to hear, the alternating sounds on those tracks makes them attractive.
There are a number of standout tracks. "Searching is a simply beautiful piece with strong echoes of Jim Hall both tonally and in the phrasing, technique, and feel. In this haunting track, Allen uses a very difficult in-time sliding technique that reminds me of something Django Reinhardt used to do, although he picked his slide in time. An odd length/meter motive sounds in "Paradigm Shift, where Allen burns for the first time using very long lines and another display of his sliding technique, now much faster.
On "Samba 7, which doesn't sound like a samba at all, Allen again displays his ability to use his technique for the music as the lines just flow. DeRosa (who lately seems plagued by being underrecorded) answers with a truly amazing bass solo. Ending the record is "Uneasy, which is the first straight cooker, here on a boppish line, played at first in unison by Blake and Allen, and then taken to cool heights.
Untold Stories is very high quality mainstream jazz, and one does not have to be a guitarist to appreciate the musical minds at work. After listening to the disc for some time, I felt like I knew something of Allen, and I wanted to know more, since his personality, though understated, comes through.