JD Allen ‘Graffiti’ (Savant) 4/5

jd-allenTenor saxophonist JD Allen has been on the New York jazz scene since 1993, when his youthful precociousness earned him many admirers. Since then, the Detroit born musician has released eight albums, “Graffiti” being his ninth, and his fourth consecutive outing on the Savant label. For this trio recording, Allen is joined by his frequent collaborators bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. This accomplished threesome know each other well, having performed together now for several years… and it shows. The intuition they so obviously share allows them to make trio music of the highest standard, effortless interplay combining with well written, open and honest compositions. Allen’s playing style might well be compared to two of the greats; Coltrane and Sanders. One can also hear touches of Shorter, Webster and Hawkins. He plays with such fluency, his imagination and expression creating a wholesome, spiritual, post-bop vitality that is at times breathtaking. “Graffiti” is a no nonsense recording; the sound captures the essence of the music perfectly as the trio work their way through nine compositions, leaving the listener in no doubt that they are experiencing three musicians so effortlessly integrated with one another and on top of their game that it’s difficult to imagine hearing a more accomplished sax/drums/bass outfit.

The album opens with “Naked”, a drum and sax duet. There’s an immediate spontaneity which grabs hold, yet at the same time managing to retain its cohesion which underlines much of this album’s success – the fine line between the two points being met with skill and poise. Inspired by the African-American folktale, “Jawn Henry” has an urgency and purpose to it that spills out of the saxophonist’s mind, sounding like there’s an uninhibited outpouring direct from thought to mouthpiece. “Third Eye” is looser, with its free flowing energy setting up some back and forth responses from drums, bass and sax. Whilst the title track “Graffiti” charts a course firmly routed in historical jazz trio symbolism, “G-dspeed, B. Morris” pursues a very different path. The trio know how to groove, with this melodic and lyrical blues-inflected piece really hitting the spot. Infectious writing and playing from all three musicians, August’s bass is just so on the money here, this is a prime example of how well the trio combine, time and space afforded by the composer for the drums and bass to work their magic. “Little Mack” sways with its own jaunty rhythm, leading into the soulful blues of “Sonny Boy”, a deep groove allowing the tune to ring out with hope and deep affection. There’s a comforting and familiar feel to the swinging “Indigo (Blue Like)”. Allen’s sax speaks the words of many time-honoured saxophonists, yet somehow manages to herald a new beginning with its uncomplicated and honest, open attitude. The session closes with “Disambiguation”, a more lyrical, free flowing take on what has come before. Sharp, incisive and totally at ease, drums and bass add some wonderful textures and embellishments to Allen’s supreme saxophony.

As a newcomer to the music of JD Allen, “Graffiti” has now inspired me to check out his back catalogue. With more than a handful of albums already under his belt, I somehow think I won’t be disappointed. There’s something special about this man’s playing, he has such a natural sound and feel, I look forward to immersing myself deeper into Mr JD Allen’s musical adventures.

Mike Gates