JD Allen, Graffiti (Savant)
Intrepid as ever in his power, cohesiveness and brevity of expression, tenor saxophonist JD Allen returns to the trio format that gives him all he needs as a soloist and a composer. Allen, bassist Greg August and drummer Rudy Royston are once again alone together in an album that has obstacle course tunes as well as simple ones, all composed by Allen. His “Indigo Blue (Blue Like)” is, indeed, like the blues, but because of its form it is not exactly the blues. It swings harder than anything else on the album, although sections of the title tune, “Graffiti,” come close. “Little Mack,” really the blues, is the track in which Allen is nearest to evoking the tenor-bass-drums trios of one of his inspirations, Sonny Rollins. Allen’s liner notes say that “Jawn Henry” was “inspired by the Black American folktale of John Henry’s (The Steel Drivin’ Man) victorious duel with a steam-powered hammer…” Not quite the classic folk song, it makes use of bracing tension-and-release sequencing. Through nine tunes, Allen, August and Royston anticipate one another’s thoughts and improvisational choices with a sensitivity that makes them one of the most satisfying bands at work today.
Introducing Katie Thiroux(BassKat Music)
After I heard Katie Thiroux at the Brubeck Institute Summer Colony 10 years ago almost exactly to the day, I wrote on the fledgling Rifftides:
In a few days, seventeen-year-old Katie Thiroux will begin her senior year at the Hamilton High Music Academy in Los Angeles. A bassist, she swings hard, solos well and develops supporting lines that inspire soloists. In the all-star combo, her rapport with pianist Julian Bransby and drummer Steve Renko was remarkable.
…Not content to be merely a superb player, Ms. Thiroux sings beautifully, accompanying herself on bass in the manner of Kristin Korb, with whom she has studied. In a duet with Ingrid Jensen, she sang “Close Your Eyes” simply and brilliantly, with a canny understanding of the meaning of the lyrics and their relationship to the melody. She and Ingrid ended the piece with a complex unison line that culminated in a high G perfectly intoned by Jensen’s muted horn and Ms. Thiroux’s angelic voice. Generous and giving, Katie Thiroux is a thoroughgoing musician, the antithesis of the image of the egocentric chick singer. I hope to hear more of her, for the sheer pleasure of it.
A decade later I’ve heard her again, on a new album produced by drummer Jeff Hamilton. Thiroux’s bass playing reflects the tradition and examples of John Clayton and Ray Brown, as she demonstrates with powerful swing in her blues “Ray’s Kicks.” Thiroux’s singing, faultlessly in tune and with canny phrasing, holds through the tempo changes and breathtaking pace of “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else.” In the out-chorus of “There’s a Small Hotel,” the tricky intervals she applies as she paraphrases the melody enhance it and the meaning of the lyric. I don’t know if she scats, but with phrasing like that, she doesn’t need to.
With the veteran Roger Neumann on tenor saxophone, Thiroux uses the final eight bars of Lester Young’s solo on “Sometimes I’m Happy” as the introduction to “A Beautiful Friendship,” one of many indications of her sense of the music’s history. She demonstrates her skill as a composer with four pieces including a ballad, “Can’t We Just Pretend,” that deserves a lyric. The album concludes with four minutes of virtuoso unaccompanied bass playing on “Oh What A Beautiful Morning.” Graham Dechter is the guitarist in Thiroux’s pianoless quartet, Matt Witek the drummer. They and Neumann accompany her with empathy, open ears, flexibility and the solidarity of a working band. Each solos impressively.
This debut recording was worth the ten-year wait.