JD Allen - Barracoon

Label: Savant, 2019

Personnel - JD Allen: tenor saxophone; Ian Kenselaar: acoustic and electric bass; Nic Cacioppo: drums.


The incomparable saxophonist JD Allen returns with his 13th album as a leader, this time in the company of two young rhythm stylists who have been playing with the tenor titan for more than a year, bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacciopo. Barracoon contains 10 tight, tough compositions that confer a wider ampleness to Allen’s improvisatory ground since the style adopted often leans on the avant-garde jazz while retaining the true essence of the blues and Americana spirit.

The title track is an incendiary tour de force that shrinks and expands with bite and insight in the account of the saxophonist’s fully intonated low-pitched notes, whose extraordinary timbre resounds like a cannon. Everything falls on top of the rambunctious swinging tapestry created by bass and drums.

The inspiration for this CD was today’s political fickleness as well as the books Barracoon: The Story of The Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, whose emotions are directly transferred to “The Immortal (H.Lacks)”. Taking the form of a lachrymose spiritual, naturally rooted in the blues and folk traditions, this tune affiliates with “13” in terms of tone, feeling, and expression. The latter piece dawns with a solo bass statement and dusks after an impactful trio reassembly for an awesome finale.

If “The Goldilocks Zone” thrives on the art of swinging, absorbing the best of tradition but giving it a blatant contemporary flair, “Beyond the Goldilocks Zone” is a tense exercise that concentrates on flying freely with unflappable conviction. Allen’s virtuosity is on display, whether searching for points of energy in brisk phrases or engendering catchy rhythmic figures to be couched and chained with perspicacity.

Kenselaar switches to electric bass on “G sus”, attesting the static backbone with competent fretwork, whereas the drummer rambles freely within the structure. “Ursa Major” also incorporates electric bass, but it's Cacioppo’s crisp drumming that is highlighted both in the concluding solo and before that, in a passage where he interacts with Allen, whose inexhaustible rhythmic ideas take the form of tongue-in-cheek remarks and sincere impulsive cries.

Both “When You Wish Upon a Star”, the standard that concludes the program, and “Communion”, a grooving phenomenon that swings with class, exhibit an effortless lightness of movement. The nature of these songs in association with Allen’s distinctive language will certainly convince possible skeptic fans who might be dealing with some sort of expectation in regard to this new trio venture.

The musicians combine their talents for the first time to powerful effect, demonstrating a ferocious appetite for opening new frontiers.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Barracoon ► 06 - Beyond the Goldilocks Zone ► 07 - Communion

JD Allen - Love Stone

Label: Savant Records, 2018

Personnel – JD Allen: tenor sax; Liberty Ellman: electric guitar; Gregg August: acoustic bass; Rudy Royston: drums.


Boasting a magnificent sound as well as a beautiful, fluid language, tenor saxophonist JD Allen embraces jazz ballads from the past in his new Savant release, Love Stone, the excellent follow up to last year’s Radio Flyer. If there is something about Charles Lloyd in the way he declares “Stranger in Paradise”, a song popularized by Jimmy Smith, then he shows off an effective pitch control in the pure classic tradition of Sonny Rollins on “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”. All those marvelously deep notes are imprinted on our minds, uttered with warm tones and infallible precision. They uplift the spirit. Guitarist Liberty Ellman demonstrates his harmonic competence and melodic sensitivity on both tunes, well backed up by the breathable bass-drums workflow by bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. The latter musicians have been recording regularly with JD since 2012, while Ellman joined last year. 

The bop erudition of “Why Was I Born” reaches a groovy relaxation, renouncing to the fervently swinging incursions of Jackie McLean or the rubato adventures of Coltrane/Burrell, two versions still fresh in my mind. The shimmering brushwork of Royston and the appealing, laid-back posture of August are freaking awesome.

Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” is an adorable folk song that advances peacefully with guitar introspection, punctual bass plucks, and mallet drumming. It is followed by the casualness and graceful swinging balance of “Put On a Happy Face”, a composition formerly tackled by such different artists as Oscar Peterson and Stevie Wonder.

Gone With the Wind” concludes the quartet’s voyage into this magical realm of balladic jazz with a profound, soulful appeal that stems from the unblemished teamwork.

In a quietly revolutionary mode, JD deftly reimagines familiar tunes with a sharp, affective, and pragmatic vision. The pristine glow of his saxophone brings us back the joy of listening to these sweet old songs. Tradition has its place in the modern jazz and this impressive album is probably what your ears have been aching for.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Stranger in Paradise ► 02 - Until the Real Thing Comes Along ► 05 - Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies

JD Allen - Radio Flyer

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.

       Grade  A

       Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Radio Flyer ► 03 – The Angelus Bell ► 06 – Daedalus

JD Allen - Americana

JD Allen: saxophone; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums.

Owner of a penetrating sound and an impressive technique, the saxophonist JD Allen turns his focus to the roots by picking some wrinkled old blues and giving them the necessary retouches to fit in the actual jazzistic landscape. Another saxophone player, Noah Preminger, has followed this same concept in “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”, in which a few Delta blues got fresh rearrangements. 
“Americana” is a respectable follow-up to “Graffiti”, Allen’s previous, and was also recorded with the glaring rhythm section composed of Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Powerful without being aggressive, Allen and his peers embark on irresistible grooves and strong dynamics that cause immediate empathy on the listener. Oscillating between beseeching and hard-hitting, the calls emitted by the leader’s tenor sax find consistent support in the pungent bass plucking and bowing of August, and in the laudable maneuvers of Royston, whose resolute drive and dry timbre feel quite fresh. The collective sounds simultaneously feisty, raw, and erudite.

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil ► 02 – Another Man Done Gone ► 03 – Cotton