Jazz CD Reviews

Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker – Work To Do – Mack Avenue

Allen and Whitaker easily balance the shifts between funky and post-bop, so that no one style overfills the final mix.

Published on May 27, 2009

Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker – Work To Do – Mack Avenue

Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker – Work To Do – Mack Avenue MAC 1045, 64:02 ****:

(Carl Allen – drums, producer; Rodney Whitaker – acoustic & electric bass, producer; Vincent Chandler – trombone; George Colligan – piano, Fender Rhodes; Vincent Herring – alto & soprano saxophone; Rodney Jones – acoustic & electric guitar; Brandon Lee – trumpet; Dorsey "Rob" Robinson – B3 Hammond organ & piano; Kirk Whalum – tenor & soprano saxophone)

On their sophomore album, Work To Do, rhythm section par excellence Carl Allen (drums) and Rodney Whitaker (acoustic and electric  bass) once again tap into their roots and offer an engaging and user-friendly repertoire that includes standards, pop classics, soul music, gospel influences, and post-bop originals. On the duo’s previous Mack Avenue release, Get Ready, Whitaker and Allen mixed similar styles into a brew that appealed to a wide audience. On Work To Do, they refine and enlarge the concept, crafting music that keeps listeners tapping their toes, snapping their fingers and generally having a good time.

Not only is the set list expanded but the band is bigger, thus providing plenty of material to hear and lots of room to establish several moods. The regulars – trombonist Vincent Chandler, keyboardist Dorsey "Rob" Robinson, and guitarist Rodney Jones – are joined by an energized Kirk Whalum on tenor and soprano saxophone, Vincent Herring on alto and soprano saxophone, and keyboardist George Colligan.

The ensemble opens with the title track, formerly a folk-tinted hit for The Isley Brothers. Allen and Whitaker remodel the piece into a bluesy, up-tempo exhibition that showcases Whalum’s tenor sax, backed by George Colligan’s piano and the Allen and Whitaker’s flowing cadence. "Work To Do" finds Whalum outstripping his instrumental pop past, swinging mightily as he soars atop the beat, sounding more like Stanley Turrentine or Gene Ammons.

The entire nine-piece contributes to Donnie McClurkin’s wistful but funky "Speak To My Heart," a soul jazz venture which uses an exuberant, urbanized arrangement that evokes Larry Carlton-era Crusaders, with more meaty saxophone workouts. Later, the band turns to a pop classic The Crusaders had success with, The Beatles’ "Eleanor Rigby." Here, though, 5/4 and 4/4 sequences are arranged together that impart a wholly new tilt to the familiar melody. Allen’s agile drumming gives a vigorous bang to the performance, which contains an ample, Joe Morello-esque drum break. Lee’s trumpet shines during the 4/4 hook, affording a blues tone to Paul McCartney’s despondent ode to "all the lonely people."

The group truly changes to a late-night, melancholy mannerism during "Giving Thanks," Allen’s elegant ballad inspired by a recent trip to South Africa, highlighted by Whalum’s pop-oriented soprano solo and Allen’s effortless talent on cymbals. A likeminded reverie is displayed during the Carol Conners/David Shire theme "With You I’m Born Again," a somber and reverent rendition laced by Jones’s emotive electric guitar and Whalum’s and Herring’s twinned saxophones. However, the record’s most solitary moment comes during Johnny Mandel’s obscure romantic meditation, "A Time For Love," which is rendered as a guitar/bass duo between Jones’s airy acoustic guitar and Whitaker’s bowed bass.

One of Whitaker’s acknowledged heroes is spotlighted via the tribute tune, "For Garrison (Both)," which Whitaker states is an aural impression of both famed bassist Jimmy Garrison and Whitaker’s son, named after the bass player. "For Garrison (Both)" intersects both swing and Latin milieus, and features fine solos from Colligan, Herring, and Chandler while Allen furnishes consistent direction from the drum chair. Allen and Whitaker show their love for modern bop here as well, as indicated through the horns’ vanguard attack, in particular Herring’s alto saxophone solo.

One of the more intriguing numbers is Allen’s modal composition "Grahamstown," also sparked by his South African visit, and which employs cluster chords to convey the cheerful nature of children Allen witnessed playing, skipping and singing. Colligan’s brilliantly inventive acoustic piano chord structures and Herring’s robust alto sax both singularly connote Allen’s thoughts about the people and situations he saw in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The abiding sentiment that permeates Work To Do, as mentioned, is connected with feeling good, and the two best examples are an ultra-funky take of Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On" and Allen’s album closer, the breezy "Relativity." The interpretation of Gaye’s famous soul single concerning ghetto life again utilizes the complete nonet and brings together Allen and Whitaker’s rhythm and blues, jazz, and gospel foundations, with superb support from Jones, who adds picturesque chordal work, and rousing solos from Whalum and Lee. Whitaker harnesses a popping beat with his electric bass, while Hammond B3 organ underscores the celebrated melody. "Relativity" is the most contemporary-directed track with its animated beat, Dorsey Robinson’s ardently soulful organ touches, and Herring’s tempered alto sax, which rebounds off of Whalum’s fiery tenor sax.

The studio work on Work To Do by producers Allen and Whitaker and the engineers puts the music in a suitable context. The drums, for instance, are well spaced in the mix, filling left, right and middle channels, as it should be for a project with a percussionist as co-leader. The keyboards and horns ride the middle channels, and the acoustic and electric basses maintain a deep pocket throughout. Allen and Whitaker easily balance the shifts between funky and post-bop, so that no one style overfills the final mix.

1. Work to Do
2. Speak to My Heart
3. For Garrison (Both)
4. Giving Thanks
5. What’s Going On
6. Eleanor Rigby
7. With You I’m Born Again
8. Grahamstown
9. A Time for Love
10. Relativity

— Doug Simpson

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