Not long ago we lauded the old school approach of saxophonist Eric Alexander, but even Alexander sounds rather leading edge compared to another tenorman just two years his senior, Harry Allen.
The son of a big band drummer, Allen was exposed to jazz literally from the time he was born. After graduating from Rutgers with a music degree, he pursued a career as a tenor saxophonist. But unlike virtually every other saxophonist of his and later generations, he altogether shunned the ultra modernist and abstract influences of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, favoring the pre-modal jazz of Young, Hawkins and the like. Sounding much like Ben Webster with a somewhat lighter, more malleable tone, Allen also bears the influence of Scott Hamilton and Stan Getz. In his 43 years has made well over twenty records, many of them themed around certain composers or a certain topics.
Last fall Allen released yet another themed record that's created a buzz, and earlier this week brought a new CD from a pianist who gives much of the spotlight to Allen. So, we thought this would be the right occasion to inspect both of these together to see what Harry's been up to lately:
Harry Allen New York State Of Mind
For Hits By Brits (2007) Allen's first CD for Challenge Records, songs composed entirely by British or British-born songwriters were performed. His second record for the label, New York State Of Mind, selects vintage songs all with a New York vibe or theme to them. Employing the same rhythm section as before (Joel Forbes, bass; Chuck Riggs, drums), Allen captures the essence of Big Apple jazz of the forties and fifties, before modern jazz became the dominant form. With most of the eleven selections being ballads, Allen and his band, which also includes Rossano Sportiello on piano and John Allred on trombone for six of the tracks, this is jazz that's unabashedly romantic and nostalgic.
Since most everyone knows most of these tunes, much of the interest in this album is going to be hinged on how they're treated here. Allen does a nice job walking the line between injecting some freshness into these standards while retaining the familiar melodies. Puttin' On The Ritz" is snappier and New York, New York" is slowed down to a soft bossa nova. The latter selection, like many others on this album, show how well Allen and Allred work together, often assuming the roles of vocal duet partners. Their rapport on Chinatown, My Chinatown" is a throwback to the vivacious swing of Dixieland, without it really being Dixieland. When Allen is the lone horn, as in the bluesy Harlem Nocture," Allen's breathy, almost crooning quality draws as much from the vocal stylings of Billie Holiday than her erstwhile partwhile partner Lester Young.
When you are in the mood for jazz that's unabashedly moody, sultry and fuss-free played to perfection, you are in a New York State Of Mind.
Purchase: Harry Allen - New York State Of Mind
As a piano player who is very respectful of tradition, Ehud Asherie is often of the Harry Allen state of mind. This past Tuesday came forth Modern Life, Aherie's third as a sole leader, all of which have come from from Posi-Tone Records. The young Israeli-born pianist, whose style recalls Erroll Garner, is a master of styles ranging from stride piano to soul-jazz. For the quartet-powered Modern Life, brings Allen on board to fill the sax role. As Asherie often for the Harry Allen Quartet, the pairing is a natural in more ways than one..
This record fits Allen's style as well as State of Mind, but it's not a ballad record at heart, and so it sizzles more. Allen lays down some inventive passages that straddle the line between pre-bop and bop on Asherie's own composition Blues For George," while Asherie shows the strong influence of both James P. Johnson and Bud Powell. The Trolley Song" (see a live performance of his song performed by Asherie and Allen only in the attached video below) begins with an alluring a capella intro by Asherie. George Gershwin's Soon" swings with conviction; these guys are truly in their element on songs like this one. Asherie makes room for some softer numbers, too: He Loves And She Loves," also by Gershwin, is dreamy but Asherie's imaginative and subdued comping keeps it from going over the line into mawkish territory.
Modern LIfe might be Ehud Asherie's date, but as a more varying record than Allen's, it serves well to demonstrate that Allen's uncompromisingly soulful delivery finds a home across a wide swath of jazz. Asherie himself finds his own rangy identity in this collection of mostly covers. The chemistry between the two makes the album all the more special.
Purchase: Ehud Asherie - Modern Life
Ehud and Harry video