Label/Year: Savant, 2017
Lineup – JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Liberty Ellman: guitar; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.
With Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues (Savant, 2016), the notable saxophonist JD Allen deserved every accolade he got.
Now, for his brand new collection of originals, Radio Flyer, his 10th as a leader, he resolved to change direction but maintaining the same faithful peers, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. However, this time, the band expands their sonic palette by adding the magical spells of guitarist Liberty Ellman, who besides his own projects, got also known for his amazing work with Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman.
The outcome is an exciting neo-postbop adorned with influences from the masters John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins.
That rich legacy is detected in the opening piece, “Sitting Bull”, whose main melody is positively driven by sax and guitar over a vagrant foundation laid down by August and Royston. Allen discourses with a quasi-philosophical insight, closely followed by Ellman’s tasteful comping, which feels simultaneously subtle and penetrating. The tune then acquires a rash swinging flow suitable for Ellman’s explorations on top of bass hops and restless drumming. The guitarist’s approach draws curiosity as he interpolates chordal voicings into the melodic lines without losing a bit of clarity of ideas.
Surrounded by a special aura, the title track features the dusky, dry timbres of Allen, Royston’s tom-tom-cymbal artistry, August’s solemn bowed bass, and a spectral glow that comes out of Ellman’s guitar’s chiming effects. Amidst ostinatos occasionally subjected to pitch transposition, Ellman smartly catches phrases delivered by the bandleader and proceeds with the flow.
Untamable drumming mixes with wry saxophone tours for the starting of “The Angelus Bell”, which also turns to its advantage the granular harmonics and beautifully contrasting voicings thrown in by Ellman.
Coltrane’s imprints can be located on “Daedalus” whose unison statement, quirky swing, and freeing mood carry vibrant energies coming from within. Allen’s heart is all in there.
The quartet is put to a test of endurance on “Heureux”, where ethereal guitar voicings oppose to the jittery drumming and robust walking bass put together by Royston and August. While Allen employs a vivid language, encouraging his peers to exteriorize feelings, Ellman acquiesces, blowing our minds through a contagious improvisation.
Radio Flyer feels so homogeneous that I would dare to call it a suite. It not only waves at you with an array of bold and fresh solutions but also makes you fly with the grandiosity of its sound.
02 – Radio Flyer ► 03 – The Angelus Bell ► 06 – Daedalus