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Harry Allen's All Star New York Saxophone Band: The Candy Men

Jack Bowers By

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At times, there is something to be said for glancing backward while moving forward, for saluting the past while embracing the present. In 1973, the Carpenters recorded another in a long series of hit songs, "Yesterday Once More," which noted how the past often parallels the present. Sometimes revisiting bygone days is a good thing; at other times, not so much. On his new album The Candy Men, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen delves even further into the murkiness of time to reclaim his "yesterday," modeling the ensemble's "all-star" reed section on the three-tenor-plus-baritone-sax framework made popular by Woody Herman's Second Herd in 1947-48 and generally known in musical circles as the "Four Brothers sound." Is that a good thing? Opinions may vary, but here is one unequivocal "yes" vote.

Allen raises the curtain, appropriately enough, with the iconic "Four Brothers," using not Jimmy Giuffre's classic chart but an arrangement by Al Cohn written for a later album, The Four Brothers . . . Together Again! While the solo order on various tracks isn't disclosed on the jacket or in Marc Myers' otherwise splendid liner notes, the ultra-smooth Allen and baritone Gary Smulyan are rather easy to pinpoint, and while tenors Grant Stewart and Eric Alexander are far closer in phrasing and perception, they too can be separated with due diligence. On "Four Brothers," the order seems to be Stewart, Allen, Alexander and Smulyan, after which everyone trades fours. Allen arranged every other track, starting with his own mid-tempo groover, "The One for You," on which the familiar Four Brothers sound precedes engaging solos by Smulyan, Alexander, Stewart and Allen (in that order; fingers crossed).

There's an "Early Autumn" vibe to the lovely ballad "How Are Things in Glocca Morra," a Bill Holman-inspired ambience to "After You've Gone" (not unlike the high-voltage chart Holman wrote for the Herman Herd in the mid-50s). Pianist Rossano Sportiello and drummer Kevin Kanner take their first solos here, proving that the term "all-star" doesn't apply merely to the saxophones. Indeed, the rhythm section (Sportiello, Kanner, bassist Joel Forbes) is sharp and persuasive throughout. Alexander is especially inspired on "I Wished on the Moon" and another of Allen's originals, the earnestly swinging "Blues in the Morning," which lead to the opulent "I Can See Forever," co-written by Allen and frequent collaborator Judy Carmichael (who also co-authored "The One for You").
And what would a Four Brothers salute be without at least one song by the great Zoot Sims? The gem chosen here is Sims / Gerry Mulligan's "The Red Door," a seductive swinger with solos to match by the reeds and Sportiello. There's more of the same on "The Candy Man" (a huge hit for Sammy Davis Jr. back in the day), Allen's breezy, Cohn-like "So There," Rodgers and Hart's plaintive "Nobody's Heart (Belongs to Me)" and the gently loping finale, "The Party's Over," introduced by the incomparable Judy Holliday in the Broadway smash Bells Are Ringing. While the reason for its title isn't laid bare, there's no doubt that The Candy Men is one sweet album from start to finish. As for the designation "all-star," one's customary reaction is to reach for the nearest grain of salt. No need for that here, as Allen's all-stars more than warrant the name. An appetizing banquet for lovers of jazz in its past and present tense.

Track Listing: Four Brothers; The One For You; How Are Things in Glocca Morra?; After You've Gone; I Wished On the Moon; Blues in the Morning; I Can See Forever; The Red Door; The Candy Man; So There; Nobody's Heart; The Party's Over.

Personnel: Harry Allen: tenor saxophone; Eric Alexander: tenor saxophone; Grant Stewart: tenor saxophone; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone; Rossano Sportiello: piano; Joel Forbes: bass; Kevin Kanner: drums.

Title: The Candy Men | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Arbor Records

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