Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen is a keeper of the flame. His understated and well- studied saxophone style covers everyone from Frankie Trumbauer
to Coleman Hawkins
. He is a scholar of melody and vibe, and has the keen ability to interpret standards with an uncanny and swinging precision that should be used as the standard for jazz saxophone. Allen has many notable releases, including, in 2009-2010, New York State of Mind
and his appearance on Nilson Matta's Copacabana
New York State of Mind
New York State of Mind is Allen's second recording for the Dutch label Challenge after Hits By Brits (2007). Allen again is paired with trombonist John Allred on six of the disc's 11 performances. Like Hits By Brits, New York State of Mind is a theme recording populated by songs related to the cultural center of the universe, New York City. Allen and Allred paint an almost Dixieland counterpoint on the 1929 Irving Berlin classic, making the song stand up and walk.
Allen is Ben Webster-breathy on Duke Ellington's "Harlem Nocturne," coaxing barely a whisper from his horn. "Autumn in New York" is a tailor-made ballad for Allen and Allred, who trade phrases back and forth like a conversation between old friends. Pianist Rossano Sportiello holds down all four corners of the quintet's map, helping guide its principles and its solo whims. "New York State of Mind," "New York, New York" and "Autumn in New York" provide a triptych of the city, beautifully framed and presented.
Harry Allen is not John Coltrane, nor should he ever be. He is the supreme living interpreter of the American Songbook on the tenor saxophone. His nearest modern competition is Scott Hamilton and the two have actually recorded together. This is melody driven jazz that will delight all jazz stalwarts.
Visit Harry Allen on the web.
Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage
While Allen may be best known for his superb standards and ballad work, he is also well capable of performing more modern fare including his own and other writers' compositions. His appearance on bassist Nilson Matta's Copacabana is a case in point. Not only does Allen's airy style perfectly dovetail into Matta's breezy samba grooves, Allen can also spin gold fiber from the air himself.
Allen's contribution to Copacabana is acting as foil to Matta's powerful leadership, providing the disc with a solid reeds presence. Matta, a native of Brazil, made his way Stateside in 1985, establishing himself as a prominent Latin- jazz bassist in New York City. His previous recording, Walking with My Bass (Blue Toucan, 2006) was well received. Matta is fond of the more gentle rhythms of South America, employing them generously on Copacabana. Allen can only shine in such environs.
Allen emerges on the silky-turn-torrent "Trenzinho Do Caipira," where he capably duets flautist Anne Drummond. The piece builds with dramatic tension ending in furious but tightly arranged abandon. "Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil)" begins briskly with Allen and Drummond cooling things off with their languid, dry tones. The title piece is a sweet little samba capturing Allen in his balladic element, with Matta playing guitar. "I Can See Forever" is Allen's lone composition on the disc. It is a moody, after-hours piece that floats suspended over the rest of the recital. Matta presents an introspective bass solo that mirrors Allen's efforts on the tenor saxophone.
Allen proves he is not a one dimensional standards savant with this collaboration. He shows great empathy for Brazilian music and a keen ear for ballad composition.
Visit Nilson Matta on the web.
Tracks and Personnel
New York State of Mind
Tracks: 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.
Personnel: Harry Allen: tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello: piano; Joel Forbes: bass; Chuck Riggs: drums; John Allred: trombone (1, 4, 6, 8-10).
Tracks: Baden; Trenzinho Do Caipira; Aguas Brasileiras; Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil); Pantanal; Copacabana; Saci Perere; I Can See Forever; Asa Branca / Baiao.
Personnel: Harry Allen: tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond: flute; Klaus Mueller: piano; Nilson Matta: bass, acoustic guitar (6) Mauricio Zottarelli: drums; Ze Mauricio: percussion.