It’s nice to go traveling, even knowing that the mailman, FedEx and UPS will have delivered more albums than anyone could possibly hear without giving up sleeping, eating and cycling. Catching up with all of that music is out of the question, but we’ll try—ears open, nose to the grindstone.
JD Allen, Lovestone (Savant)
‘True confession: playing the melody while knowing the lyrics is like drinking champagne alone and laughing at yourself all night long. I figured you would get a kick out of hearing me play someone else’s story, for a change. Hope you know that I live only to hear you say, “…hmmm…that’s different.’
Allen is a successor to the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster in terms of adoring both the melody and the lyric. Webster once famously said that not remembering the lyrics made him stop playing in the midst of a solo. “I forgot the words,” he explained to his band and a puzzled audience. In this collection, you can practically hear Allen thinking the words as he plays the melodies of nine Great American Songbook ballads and one folk song. He never strays far the songs’ spirits, keeping them alive with allusions to the melodies during his improvisations. He has a big, deep sound and applies relaxed tempos even to pieces customarily played at rapid clips; “Put On A Happy Face,” for instance, and “Gone With The Wind.” Along with “Stranger In Paradise, “You’re My Thrill,“ “Why Was I Born” and the others, Allen includes “Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies,” a song recorded over the years by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Leon Bibb and dozens of other traditional performers. He makes it as beautiful as the beloved standards.
Allen’s rhythm section of guitarist Liberty Ellman, bassist Greg August and drummer Rudy Royston gives him solid, relaxed support. Using wire brushes, Royston often accompanies Allen in a way suggesting that he is thinking as if he were a melody instrumentalist feeding chords to the soloist.
This is a thoughtful and lyrical album.