Upper West Side is as fine a duet album as has been made by a pianist with another instrumentalist. This declaration may very possibly include the albums made by Hank Jones with Tommy Flanagan and Oscar Peterson with Dizzy Gillespie. It is a credit to pianist Ehud Asherie that he made this album at such a young age in comparison to the masters who have been mentioned in the same breath, perhaps with seeming blasphemy. However, considering Asherie's instrumental mastery, the superiority of his musical ideation, the often surprising turns of his improvisations, andthis is probably of paramount importancehis understanding of music history, he is qualified to be named with Jones and Peterson. And then there is the small matter of his duet partner: tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.
Allen has been spoken of in the same breath as Stan Getz, a musician who he resembles in his staggering sense of harmony and rhythm. There is another reason why Allen is so uniquely suited for a project like this: the tenor saxophonist is a very old soulnot a moldy fig, but a truly old soul. Few among the younger generation of tenor saxophonistswith the possible exception of JD Allenhave such a sweeping sense of the history of their instrument. Just like JD Allen channels John Coltrane, Harry Allen summons up the ghosts of Coleman Hawkins and Getz. There are eerie moments on "O Pato" when it seems as if Getz were playing in the shadows alongside Allen. Similarly, in the hauntingly beautiful "Passion Flower," Allen conjures up the spirit of Hawkins as powerfully as anyone could. Asherie does the same for Duke Ellington.
Asherie's ability to inhabit so many styles is uncanny for a pianist his age. His stride playing is not just in the pocket, it is also on the money, as demonstrated on "Have You Seen Miss Jones." This is also evident in the wonderful chase that ensues when Asherie runs the boogie-woogie down, taking off after Allen on "I Want To Be Happy." This performance is reminiscent of some of the most significant moments of the Oscar Peterson/Dizzy Gillespie duets. But what is most memorable about this album is the understated playing of both players. While the pianist and saxophonist are emphatic when displaying their outgoing personalities, both play well within themselves. There is no finer account of this aspect than the soaring moments on that chart.
The art of the ballad is probably best remembered by its greatest exponents, and not many musicians can play a ballad like Harry Allen. His control of emotion and his choice of notes are almost as close to perfection as those of a poet and his love poem. And it behooves a fine producer to close a memorable album with two fine and playful songs about love at its liveliest.
Learnin' The Blues; It Had To Be You; O Pato; Our Love Is Here To Stay; Have You Met Miss Jones?; Passion Flower; I Want To Be Happy; Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams; I'm In The Mood For Love; Love Will Find A Way; My Blue Heaven.
Ehud Asherie: piano; Harry Allen: tenor saxophone.
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