For George, Cole and Duke – Harry Allen group – Blue Heron

by | Apr 13, 2015 | Jazz CD Reviews

For George, Cole and Duke – Harry Allen group – Blue Heron, 71:00 ****: 

(Harry Allen – tenor saxophone; Ehad Asherie – piano; Nicki Parrott – upright bass and vocals; Chuck Redd – drums and vibraphone; “Little Johnny” Rivero – shakere, conga, bongo – tracks 5,10,13)

In the cannons of the popular music form, it would be hard to imagine three more influential and seminal figures than George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. So to put the music of these individuals together for an album is not so much about what to include, but rather what to exclude, due to the sheer magnitude of their works. In this volume of compositions, there is mostly the familiar, with a couple of outliers thrown in for good measure. All are done in a swinging, middle of the road style, and are sure to please the most discerning listener.

This quartet is lead by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen whose dry tone is perfectly suited to the material. He is intelligently supported by the young Israeli-Born pianist Ehad Asherie and two other stalwarts, bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott and drummer-vibist Chuck Redd. On several tracks “Little Johnny” Rivero is added to give those numbers a Latin feel. Although the  tunes on the release are not grouped by composer, it may make sense to discuss them on that basis, starting with Cole Porter’s  “Always True To You In My Own Fashion”. Written in 1948 for the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate, Allen’s tenor swings out the melody from the opening bars and never lets up throughout the piece. The supporting cast adds their solo efforts to great effect. Porter was always a bit of a scamp when it came to his lyrics as they were generally full of risqué material. “Love For Sale” was no exception as evidenced by the phrase who’s prepared to pay the price, for a trip to paradise? Love for sale. The mambo-infused arrangement by Chuck Redd and the Latin percussion supplied by “Little Johnny “ Rivero, give the theme a chile-pepper zest.

The contributions by George and Ira Gershwin start with the ballad “How Long Has This Been Going On?” which features a vocal by Nicki Parrott without her usual bass accompaniment. In fact, Chuck Redd drops the drums and takes up the vibraphone so there is no rhythm attached to the arrangement, but it all seems to work perfectly well. In 1937, RKO Pictures released Shall We Dance which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers which featured the two songs now included on this album. Firstly the title tune, “Shall We Dance” and “They All Laughed”. The former is a rouser lead by Allen’s tenor sax which jumps from the opening bars including a terrific solo from pianist Asherie. As for the second number, it has a loping gate that allows for a well-throughout solo from bassist Nicki Parrott, while Allen works his magic on tenor sax.

The Duke’s contributions fall into the category of either widely recognized or barely known. In the latter “Happy Reunion” pianist Asherie offers many Ellington-style flourishes, and Allen does a Johnny Hodges take on tenor. For “Purple Gazelle”, the Latin influence of “Little Johnny” Rivero plus Chuck  Redd’s vibes give the composition an Afro-Bossa feel. For Ellingtonians, “In A Mellow Tone” and “Mood Indigo” are tried and true favourites which are delivered in fine vocal fashion by Nicki Parrott. A well-executed potpourri derived from some the best of American popular composers.

TrackList: Always True To You In My Own Fashion; In A Mellow Tone; Happy Reunion; Silk Stockings; Purple Gazelle; How Long Has This Been Going On ?; I Love You Samantha; Shall We Dance?; By Strauss; Love For Sale; They All Laughed; Who Cares? (So Long As You Care For Me); Mood Indigo

—Pierre Giroux

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