Harry Allen: Love Songs Live!
Two words are about all that are needed to sum up the singular talents of swing–based tenor saxophonist Harry Allen — smooth and consistent, each of which aspect of his charismatic persona is abundantly present on this compilation of love songs recorded in concert between 1993 and ’96. I’m not fully conversant with Allen’s influences but Stan Getz had to be one of them (listen, for example, to Jobim’s “Once I Loved”). Others, he says, include Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Paul Gonsalves, pretty respectable models on which to pattern one’s style. Getz is most prominent in Allen’s sound, the others in his trenchant improvisations. While all of these ballads save one (Allen’s own composition, “Skyscraper”) have been around the block more than a few times, Allen simply shrugs that off and gives each one a warm and perceptive reading that seems to assert, “This is how I play; how you respond is up to you.” The album is taken from four sessions, three in Hamburg and one in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The settings are quartet (tracks 1, 2, 7) or quintet (3–6, 8–10). Allen’s is the only horn except on tracks 4, 8 and 10 where he shares the front line with the outstanding trumpeter Randy Sandke. The others in Allen’s supporting cast are superb, beginning with pianist John Bunch, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Duffy Jackson (“But Beautiful,” “This Time the Dream’s on Me”) and including pianist Brian Dee, bassist Len Skeat and drummer Oliver Jackson (“Every Time We Say Goodbye”); guitarist Howard Alden, pianist Dave McKenna, bassist Frank Tate and drummer Butch Miles (“Once I Loved,” “Skyscraper,” “The Touch of Your Lips,” “O Grande Amor”); Sandke, Dee, Skeat and Oliver Jackson (“Sweet Lorraine,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Stardust”). No matter the framework, Allen is Allen, an eloquent young player who is never at a loss for an appropriate thought or phrase. He’s so charming, and so assured, that he can even construct a super–slow–motion version of Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer’s “This Time the Dream’s on Me” and make it sound almost exciting. Be advised that everything else is unhurried as well, with excitement taking a back seat to beauty and shapeliness. And there’s no more beautiful way to close any album than with Hoagy Carmichael’s imperishable “Stardust.” A sumptuous soundtrack for those who are, have been or plan to be in love.
Contact:Nagel–Heyer Records, Rugenbarg 85, 22549 Hamburg, Germany. Web site, www.nagelheyer.com; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: But Beautiful; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Once I Loved; Sweet Lorraine; Skyscraper; The Touch of Your Lips; This Time the Dream
Personnel: Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Howard Alden, guitar; John Bunch, Brian Dee, Dave McKenna, piano; Dennis Irwin, Len Skeat, Frank Tate, bass; Duffy Jackson, Oliver Jackson, Butch Miles, drums.