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Friday, January 4, 2013

JD Allen Trio - The Matador and the Bull (Savant 2012) ***

By Joe

It's wonderful to hear someone who's clearly trying to redefine his, or her, genre of music. JD Allen seems one of these people. I haven't heard all his records in their entirety but I've heard quite a bit since he's been out on the scene - if you're interested there's an excellent live session out on the net that's on NPR from a few years ago. Anyhow, what's most interesting is the way that JD Allen and his trio have worked their way from a modern post-bop trio, not unlike an alternative Branford Marsalis trio, to becoming a very interesting unit that pushes at the edges of swinging structures with a solid sense of freedom. 

The music on the album moves between interesting open structures, via a few straight ahead tunes and back again. Five flowing pieces open the album giving a feeling of watching a piece of paper blow around in the wind. When you think everything will come to a stop it moves off elsewhere, a sort of 'restlessness'. These five tunes can take off in any direction, the melody, the rhythms and the solos all seem independent, although they are clearly not. Open structures that at times swing very hard such as 'A Suite of Lights' (tk2) completely catches you off garde. 'Ring Shouts' (tk3) swings hard from beginning to end with a dark melody and high blowing energy. 'The Lyrics of Summer and Shadow' and 'Muleta' (track 10 and 11) are both tracks that stay in a tonal area yet don't settle down into any particular groove. 'The Matador and the Bull' (tk 12) is one of these pieces where everyone is thinking differently, but with the same end point in view.

These are for me the strongest moments on this album. If you look at the form of the album closely you'll notice it's like a sandwich tracks 1-5 and 9-12 are all of the same order. However, the three tracks in the middle of the album (tracks - 6, 7, 8) are for me strangely out of place, or is it the other way round? These three tracks are straight ahead tunes, track six Paseillo even being based on the chord changes of 'Sweet Georgia Brown'. These three tracks are fine, nothing wrong with the playing, or soloing which is excellent. Nonetheless, I'm surprised that JD Allen and his trio didn't want to make the mood of the album a little more coherent.  

Certainly an album that is on the fringes of mainstream jazz. It would be interesting to see if JD Allen and trio can make the move into the area of open improvisation, something they are clearly capable of, and also a sphere that could yield some interesting results.

Here's the NPR link - I should point out it's from 2011! I notice there are a few more if you look around from earlier dates (2009 and 2010) for those interested.