An inspired version of Coltrane's 'Bessie's Blues' is the session's crown jewel.
Mike Allen Trio Dialectic Almus 2003
The winner of the 2003 Western Canadian Music Awards Outstanding Jazz Recording, Mike Allen's Dialectic (Almus, ALM11092) is a prime example of an exceptional disc produced outside of the major jazz centers of the United States. A longtime participant in the fertile Vancouver music scene, Allen thrives in a trio format that prominently features bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Julian MacDonough. Although the tenor and soprano saxophonist has a decidedly modern take on the jazz tradition (Coltrane and Ornette Coleman are acknowledged influences), the warmth of his playing, as well as the band's amicable temperament, often alludes to pre-bebop styles.
The trio's weighty version of Frank Foster's "Simone" bears a strong resemblance to some of Coltrane's classic recordings from the early 1960s; despite the similarities, however, Allen's crew establishes their own identity. The overall sound is full but not murky, as each of the three voices is clearly heard and no one instrument dominates. Each player is in his own space, yet they listen to and freely respond to one another. Utilizing rim knocks, tom toms, an unmuffled bass drum and a variation of a Latin rhythm to the ride cymbal, MacDonough spreads the pulse throughout the drum kit in a loosely knit manner reminiscent of Elvin Jones. Rushka's variations of a solemn, circular pattern serve as the fulcrum on which everything else balances. The tenor saxophonist stays on low boil for 6 solo choruses. He favors measured development over long, convoluted lines or exaggerated displays of emotion. Sometimes Allen reworks a brief phrase until it blooms into something of austere beauty. In other instances the repetition is more adamant and prolonged, evincing a pointed intensity devoid of any smooth transition or resolution.
Even though Allen's lovely rendering (on soprano) of Cole Porter's "Everytime We Say Goodbye" is memorable, the track's success ultimately hinges on Rushka and MacDonough's underpinning. They move at a pace between slow and middling, just a little quicker than normally associated with a ballad. The bassist and drummer's accompaniment is both discrete and firm, gently swinging and never diverting attention away from the saxophonist. Acutely aware that it's the song that matters, they're also cautious in filling the open space left by Allen. Rhythmically speaking, this is some of MacDonough's simplest as well as most subdued playing of the setand among his most effective as well. Using sticks instead of brushes he's light and decisive. Aside from a wispy ride cymbal pattern, he offers pieces of eighth-note triplets to the snare and bass drum that complement Rushka and add a slight friction to the achingly romantic mood. Near the end of his first solo chorus, Allen returns to and embraces the melody, then begins the second chorus with more resolve, his lines more gritty and varied, but he never completely lets go of Porter's tune.
An inspired version of Coltrane's "Bessie's Blues" is the session's crown jewel. Here they make serious music that is also very pleasurable. Once again functioning as partners instead of sidemen, Rushka and MacDonough lay down a medium tempo groove so deep and so sure that you hope it never ends. Evincing a full, rich sound, Allen plays an exemplary fourteen-chorus solo that's impossible to conceive of without the bassist and drummer. He doesn't lead them, fight them or blow over themrather, it's like he's riding the longest and smoothest wave imaginable. They're as close in spirit as players of three different instruments can be. The antithesis of the forced, overblown styles of a lot of modern tenor players, Allen doesn't play a fistful of notes when one will do. His real strength lies in never becoming too emotional. The manner in which he doles out phrases at times sounds almost casual, yet it has a greater accumulative effect than any litany of shrieks and honks. In an ambling, unpretentious way, Allen gets more out of holding back and implying passion then letting everything hang out.