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JD Allen Trio: I AM I AM

Mark F. Turner By

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Playing from the heart, creating and improvising from within, jazz music's mantra continues to espouse that "honesty is the best policy." This is heard and felt when listening to saxophonist J.D. Allen's I Am I Am. In an insightful and inspirational interview, the artist gives light to what makes his music forthcoming and real.

Allen's been around for a bit. This is his second recording as a leader, following Pharoah's Children (Criss Cross, 2002). Gaining momentum as a leading voice, he's been heard on Gerald Cleaver's Detroit (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2008) Cindy Blackman's Music For The New Millennium (Sacred Sound Records, 2008), and Jeremy Pelt's November MaxJazz, 2008), it's easy to hear why he's a choice sideman. But as a leader on I Am I Am he absolutely shines.

The ubiquitous trio format has always been an excellent means of group interaction and Allen's performance with Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) is a session in trio symbiosis. Listening to the track "Louisada" is all that is needed to understand their rapport.

There is a subtle spiritual connection to the music, some of the track names taken from biblical references: the title, "Hajile" (Elijah spelled backwards) and "Ezekiel." And while the music is similar in understanding to John Coltrane's music spiritual journey, I Am I Am is expressed in Allen's personal experiences and travels.

The opening title track is like a powerful storm, the thunder of Augusts' bass, flashes of lightning from Royston's cymbals and Allen's tenor, the wind. "Titus" is powerful, walking then swinging proudly, pushing the limits of precession, then resuming its initial anthem.

The recording has roots in soul, gospel, and modern post bop but other elements can also be heard (if not overtly): the street corners of Allen's hometown in Detroit, the hustle of New York and Africa's wonder on "The Cross + The Crescent Sickle" where Royston delivers incredible traps and August provides some ethereal bowed string work.

The essence of Allen's voice is in every piece, never overpowering and always in control. His delivery is superb on "Othello," filled with melodism and spirit, in the roll call of great voices of the past and present. There's honesty in this music. You can hear it.

Track Listing: I AM--I AM; The North Star; Hajile; Titus; Louisada; id; The Cross + The Crescent Sickle; Othello; Ezekiel; Pagan.

Personnel: JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Title: I AM I AM | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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