Mike Allen Quartet with Hugh Fraser – Panorama – Cellar Live, 64:03 ****:
( Mike Allen – tenor & soprano saxophones; Hugh Fraser – trombone; Miles Black – piano; Adam Thompson – bass; Julian MacDonough – drums)
The regular iteration of The Mike Allen Quartet is a consistently intrepid band based on longevity and mutual trust. So when the highly regarded trombonist Hugh Fraser joined the group for this recording, a voice was added that provided a strong and uncluttered style to make Panorama a smart outing.
The composing talents of both Mike Allen and pianist Miles Black are the backbone of this session as they explore a wide variety themes and styles to take advantage of the strengths of the various band members. The opening track is an Allen tune entitled “Get Back” which takes its cues from a New Orleans blues reference with a repeated base line and a melody played in unison between the horns. Allen then shows his versatility on the soprano sax with Fraser’s trombone in a gruff tone for several bars. On Allen’s following composition “Labyrinth,” he has found a singular melodic line that flows with a fulsomeness that challenges the players. Allen and Fraser make the most of the frame to spin out their ideas in exemplary fashion.
After an opening section that has an expansive motif, the title track “Panorama” moves into a mid-tempo swinger with a strong Hugh Fraser solo which is picked up by Allen’s tenor sax that develops the theme of space and freedom. Pianist Miles Black has written a couple of compositions included in this session, one of which is the lightly swinging “Sun Shine” which stretches Black’s pianist skills and at the same time provides a solid foundation for extensive solos from both Allen and Fraser. The other is the very pensive “San Miguel” which has an underlying melody that speaks to an opening Latin note structure laid down by Black, that later Allen’s soprano sax and Fraser’s trombone interweave their ideas. When bassist Adam Thomas is given some space he easily demonstrates that he has an authoritative tone and expressive ideas. The band clearly knows how to blend economy and proficiency. [But with a title like that I was expecting some steel drums in it…Ed.]
TrackList: Get Back; Labyrinth; Modalitee; Two Summers; Panorama; Sun Shine; The Ways Of Love; San Miguel; Sing Out