JD Allen Trio – The Matador and the Bull (2012)

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Every so often, we are lucky enough to come across a record that flips previous musical conventions on its head — a record that is fresh, original and that forces us to think differently about our conception of music.

JD Allen’s latest release, The Matador and the Bull, featuring Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), is such an album. On many records, particularly in the jazz medium, we encounter roughly 6-10 songs each ranging from 5-10 minutes long — songs that are often individually unique unto themselves and that are seemingly unrelated to one another. But here, with the JD Allen trio, we get the complete opposite.

The trio presents us with 12 short tracks (most which are under 4 minutes long) that largely center on a single theme — a story of bullfight, which musically unfolds before our ears from track to track, or more appropriately, from chapter to chapter. Here, we are encountering a unique musical experience as listeners, as we are challenged to combine our visual imagination with the aural presentation, in order to piece together the story.

Most of the tracks’ titles help to guide us through the narrative: The first track, “The Matador and the Bull (torero)”, refers to the bullfighter; the second track, “Suit of Lights,” or “traje de luces” in Spanish, is the name for the bullfighter’s traditional clothing; the sixth track, “Pasiello,” refers to the custom where the bullfighters ride around the ring on horseback before the fight; the eleventh track, “Muleta,” is the name for the stick that the red cloth hangs from during the final portion of the bullfight; and the last track, “The Matador and the Bull (toro), refers to the bull, who most often meets his own mortality by the end of the fight.

On most occasions during this record, the music reflects the title of the respective track. For example, on “Paseillo,” JD’s running eight notes are swinging joyously in a galloping fashion that springs to mind a clear visual of a bullfighter riding around the ring on horseback. “Ring Shout!,” which has a less direct connection to bullfighting, is a religious ritual that originated amongst slaves in Africa who performed the dance by shuffling counter clockwise while singing, clapping and sometimes shouting. After a minute into this emotionally charged tune, we begin to hear shouts of “woah” from August or Royston. This continues throughout the remainder of JD’s playing, where he explores multiphonics, the altissimo register and at times screams at the top of his lungs on the saxophone.

This exchange, while being poetic for the tune, also shows all three musicians clearly giving every ounce that they’ve got and not withholding anything from the listener. And, on the slower tempo Santa Maria (Mother), we don’t experience so much of a ballad, but more a musical prayer, hymn, or solemn gospel that JD is reading to us through his instrument.

The Matador and the Bull is a musical novel that presents the listener’s imagination with a blank canvas, leaving us free to interpret the album in their own way. For me personally, I’m dying to hear a live performance of this same concept — a few sets surrounding the same musical story.

On this record, the trio is exceptional. August and Royston are incredibly communicative in their playing and are pivotal characters in the story that’s presented to us. And, because each track is condensed, we get the trio’s message in a clearer, more direct and often explosive manner.

The Matador and the Bull, just as with JD’s previous three albums with the same group, further displays that he has a lot to say — and that he isn’t afraid to shake things up. I can’t wait for what they have coming for us next.

David Greenberg

David Greenberg

David Greenberg is a PhD researcher in music psychology at the University of Cambridge in England.He also plays saxophone in various groups including the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra. Follow him on Twitter: @dgreenberg7. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
David Greenberg
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