JD Allen Trio
There is a moment in “Sancho Panza,” one the seven expert compositions making up JD Allen’s 2017 album, “Radio Flyer,” that chronicles a sublime jazz awakening.
Out of a bass solo by Gregg August full of spacious, patiently paced expression, Allen’s tenor sax comes to life. Its tone is rustic but luminous, bouncing about with a sleepy yet regal sense of the blues. Like August’s earlier bass run, the sax statement is in no hurry. There are influences to trace that run to the mischievousness of Archie Sheep (especially on ’80s recordings, when his playing toned down the fury of previous decades) and some of the trio albums by modern-day jazz titan Joe Lovano. But as Allen’s playing digs in, even those guidepost references begin to fade.
What you hear most is a literate, soulful and conversational jazz voice paying a nod to the masters who came before him while marching to his own jazz muse.
A native of Detroit who went on to play with a legion of jazz notables in New York (among them Betty Carter, Lester Bowie, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette), Allen has lived in Cincinnati in recent years. He had been a critics’ favorite since the release of his debut album, “In Search of JD Allen,” in 1999.
But what makes the saxophonist’s current music so involving, aside from the obvious allure of his playing, is a working trio that has developed a remarkably spacious sound. Bassist August and drummer Rudy Royston (who has played regionally with the Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet and the Anat Cohen Quartet) have cut a half-dozen recordings with Allen since the release of “I Am I Am” in 2008. Even though the recent “Radio Flyer” augments the combo sound with the addition of guitarist Liberty Ellman, what drives the music is the communication in the core trio, from the slow brewing sass propelling the album opening “Sitting Bull” to the shards of broken bop that the group tosses about on the concluding “Ghost Dance.”
“For roughly a decade, the tenor saxophonist JD Allen has accomplished what is now a rarity in jazz: He has held together a trio without reshuffling its personnel, deepening a collective language and sharpening his voice as an improviser,” Giovanni Russonello wrote in a New York Times preview of Allen’s engagements at Small’s Jazz Club last year.
This weekend, Allen bring his trio to Tee Dee’s Lounge for the fifth performance in the inaugural season of the Origins Jazz Series.
Yet more jazz
An unusually jazz prominent winter continues Thursday with the Jazz Arts Foundation’s Jazz: Live at the Library series at the Farish Theatre in the downtown Lexington Public Library, 140 East Main Street.
The featured artist will be Frankfort saxophonist Brooks Giles III. Studies at Ohio State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and New York’s New School for Social Research led to collaborations with jazz luminaries Junior Mance, Cecil McBee, Donald Byrd and Jimmy Heath. An early quartet led by Brooks in 1989 featured a young and then-largely unknown Brad Mehldau on piano. Giles’ newest recording, “Romance de Los Andes,” was cut in Santiago, Chile, with the Pancho Aranda Trio.
Backing Giles at the Thursday performance will be pianist Winton Reynolds, bassist Eli Uttal-Veroff (co-founder of the Origins Jazz Series) and drummer Dave McWhorter (founder of Jazz: Live at the Library). As with all Jazz: Live at the Library performances, the 7 p.m. concert is free.
A footnote and a preview to the week’s jazz activity: Keep next weekend open. On Feb. 10, the internationally acclaimed saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa will perform with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall (7:30 p.m., $13). Look for a detailed preview in The Musical Box next week.