JD Allen – Graffiti – Savant

JD Allen – Graffiti – Savant SCD 2147, 45:56 ***1/2:

(JD Allen – tenor sax; Gregg August – bass; Rudy Royston – drums)

It is the dream of  many jazz saxophonists once they are fully established on the scene, to either record a solo CD, or to be the primary instrument, backed by bass and drums, in recording their own compositions. Tenor saxist JD Allen has reached that level in his discography. He was born into the vibrant jazz scene of Detroit, and made a name for himself in the arduous proving grounds of New York City. Since 1999 he has recorded ten CDs as a group leader.

For his latest CD, released on Savant Records, JD has recorded nine of his own selections. Without the benefit of a piano providing melody, it is fully up to Allen to become the solo focus of the listener’s attention. On Graffiti he is fully up to the task. Winner of Downbeat’s Rising Star category in 2011, Allen shows he is in total command of his tenor.

On “Naked” it is just Allen and drummer Rudy Royston. Rudy sets a free wheeling assertive platform for JD to emote in a Coltranesque expression. “Jawn Henry” follows, and is inspired by the “Steel Drivin’ Man’s” mighty duel with a steam-powered hammer. Allen puts his spin on the intensity of the to-the- death battle.

“Third Eye” has three sections in its melody. Each member of the trio interacts independently, and bass and drums are given space to play instead of simply comping behind JD. There is a spiritual vibe here. The title track, as its name implies, has the trio blending colors of two different compositions. The late cornetist/band leader, Butch Morris, is honored on “G-Dspeed, B. Morris.” Taken at a funerial tempo, it is a tender paean to the free jazz legend. “Little Mack” is straight up blues, and “Sonny Boy” has Allen trying to “play the way that John Lee Hooker sings.” Gregg August plays the bass motif that sets the tone for tenor and sax. Tenor sax fans, and those that appreciate a blend of free jazz that does not lose its “swing feel” will dig this new CD from JD Allen.

TrackList: Naked, Jawn Henry, Third Eye, Graffiti, G-Dspeed, B. Morris, Little Mack, Sonny Boy, Indigo (Blue Like), Disambiguation

—Jeff Krow

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