Drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker have a lot in common. They're both from the Midwest Allen's from Milwaukee, Whitaker's from Detroit. Both grew up in homes filled with the sounds of gospel and R&B, and for the last twenty years or so both have achieved high ranking as two of the most heavy swinging sidemen in jazz. Get Ready
, the muscular debut for the rhythm duo on Mack Avenue Records, is a collaborative effort of prolific achievement supported by pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Rodney Jones, organist Dorsey "Rob Robinson and saxophonist Steve Wilson. The dynamic set features original compositions, inventive interpretations of Motown classics and contemporary gospel repertoire.
The Smokey Robinson-penned Temptations hit "Get Ready is slowed down significantly and reshaped as an introspective modal trance. Whitaker, paying homage to the bass legacy of his hometown, opens the tune with the original James Jamerson bass line intact before bearing down with his own propulsive, commanding voice. In contrast, the easy grooving Marvin Gaye classic "Inner City Blues is taken at a brisk tempo and completely restructured harmonically.
Moving from the soul jukebox to the gospel church service, the uplifting "Desperate Desire and "We Fall Down made famous by Donnie McClurkinare exquisite jazz renditions done in an authentic, inspirational manner with the emphasis on melody and groove. Chestnut and Robinson combine the piano and organ in convincing Sunday morning fashion.
Alongside the session's crafty covers are a handful of slick contributions by both Allen and Whitaker. The groovy bounce of "La Shea's Walk, Allen's tribute to his wife, opens up the session in a bouncy, laidback manner allowing ample blowing space for everyone to get warmed up. Allen's "Preference of Conviction, based entirely on a four note, minor key ostinato, allows for inventive, free interplay between soloists. Whitaker's "Summer (The Sweet Goodbye) begins as a meditative, rubato duet for bass and guitar before launching into a charged-up romp capped off by an explosive solo by Allen. The bassist contributes a provocative ballad with "A Heart Enflamed, A Soul Enchanted, evoking Wayne Shorter overtones with its unpredictable, wandering harmony and lucid soprano saxophone theme.
Jones adds a touch of soulful brilliance to the proceedings. The veteran guitarist employs a piercing tone on top of unwavering conviction. His solo on "Get Ready is a highlight of the disc, mixing a lethal combination of inventive ideas, blistering technique and greasy soul. The inclusion of acoustic guitar on "Alternative Thoughts and "Now Silence adds an element of tonal diversity to the overall sound of the disc.
Allen and Whitaker make for a truly dynamic modern jazz duo. Their common upbringings and shared sidemen experience make them ideal partners in a quest to move jazz in new directions while maintaining integral links to the past. The forward thinking decision to bring the soulful sounds of their youth into an aggressive, hard swinging environment is an enlightened one.