The big, fat, warm and tender tone of Harry Allen's tenor saxophone is impossible to miss. There is no one who sounds quite like him, and that is probably because no other saxophonist has embraced the tenor horn in a similar way. No one since Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster has mined the wealth of that instrument for its burnished elegant timbre except Harry Allen. Following the success of Hits by Brits (Challenge Records, 2007), comes New York State of Mind, a record that leaps into Big Apple madness with eleven standards that celebrate its myriad moods. If there had been any doubt about the relevance of such music, Allen puts it to rest.
Allen infuses relatively older tunes with a great deal of contemporary splendor. His takes on the Don Henley hit "New York Minute" (written by Henley, Danny Kortchmar, and Jai Winding), Paul Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," and Herbie Hancock / Jean Hancock's "Manhattan," are all made new in a magical way. Each song offers an earful of glorious colors and textures of the city beloved by some of music's finest; the mad rush for recognition in an idiom is at once tender, spunky and always prismatic.
Other examples abound. The swinging pulse of "Puttin' on the Ritz" recalls the wizardry-in-tap-step of Fred Astaire, while "Harlem Nocturne" sparkles in that languid, glacial manner that might wake the moon. "Broadway Melody," Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and Vernon Duke's classic, "Autumn in New York" echo with mighty feelings of tenderness. "New York, New York" makes sparks fly with in the fire of the interpretations. There are other ballads that regale the ear with brilliance, superb execution and singular warmth that can only come from living and breathing the music as only Harry Allen can. If there is one question mark on repertoire here, it is probably that the absence of "Take the A-Train" or even "Lush Life" is strongly felt, as few masters had a feel for New York like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
Allen is still at the top of his game. His absolute command of melody is only equaled by his ability to create rich layers of harmony. His solos are spry and despite their inventive elegance there is a singular logic to each one as he negotiates the idiom of each song. Trombonist John Allred creates swirls of romance around Allen both in ensemble passages as well in his solos. He is regal and plays with brazen creativity in the upper register. He is especially spectacular in both his contrapuntal opening on "New York, New York" and his inside-out solo, which is devastatingly beautiful. Rossano Sportiello has probably the most sublime technique and expression to adorn the ebony and ivory. And Allen could not expect a better rhythm section than bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs. So it is possible to get over the minor mishap with repertoire because of the fine musicians on this record.
Puttin' on the Ritz; Harlem Nocturne; Broadway Melody; Autumn in New York; Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor; Sidewalks of New York; Rose of Washington Square; New York, New York; Chinatown My Chinatown; Manhattan Serenade.
Harry Allen: tenor sax; Rossano Sportiello: piano; Joel Forbes: bass; Chuck Riggs: drums; John Allred: trombone (1, 4, 6, 8-10).
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