The unfettered joy of listening to J.D. Allen's Shine
comes from being reunited with the blues and spiritualism of modern Afro-American saxophone music. This kind of feeling and emotion all but died with John Coltrane
. Arguably only a handful of players such as Pharoah Sanders
, Archie Shepp
and, perhaps, Dewey Redman
kept those flames alive. And then there is that thing that tenor saxophonists do with their horns, namely to create an imaginary beingthe saxophonist's alter ego, his personalityliterally from mouthfuls of air. Allen's is one that is wise beyond his years. It seems that through the wind of his horn, twisted human history flows. That is why the music here may sound sometimes hoarse and full of brimstone and fire.
Many "damn yous" are woven into Allen's staccato phrases that run up and down the octaves of the tenor. For instance, there is a wild, almost primeval ring in the romp that profiles "Esre." "Sonhouse" is a masterful minor harmonic sketch in praise of the legendary Son House
. Bassist, Gregg August
holds sway with exquisite pedal point and some growling ostinato passages and that really heats up the song just prior to the penultimate chorus. Sometimes Allen senses abstractions of Pythagorean proportions. On "Conjuration of Angles," he pokes and prods drummer Rudy Royston, who rolls and rumbles with the changes picking up pace as Allen is joined by August to navigate the rest of the way through the song, before returning to the tantalizing theme.
"Marco Polo," another quick sketch can be menacing at times reflecting the man and his colonial discoveries. But past the opening theme, the music quickly opens up in harmonics and rhythmic intensity much like Trane's "Giant Steps." And then there's the title song, an elementally sad, but beautiful eulogy in praise of the heart of Allen's "blackness." And this is really what sets Allen apart from any tenor man today, including Sonny Rollins
. It is never possible to capture an essential characteristic, but if it were, it would be total sinceritya kind of brutal honesty that is almost too painful to bear; too painful even to hear sometimes.
This is what can sometimes lead to what Don Cherry
once called "total communion." This is not to be confused with the musical one, but is actually a state of mind that arises out of music. In all ancient societies this state of being is attained. Among the griots of ancient Morocco, for instance. The Yoruba people have been there too, as the music of Babatunde Olatunji
will testify. The Cubans arrive there with their Santeria rituals. And now with J.D. Allen, especially in the ecstatic "Se'lah," a modern psalm of unbridled praise.
In the liner notes to Shine
, there is an attempt to define the raison d'être of the record. Worshipful praise of music as a joyous expression of absolute freedom ought to be considered for this Afro-American masterpiece.