Eddie Allen and his trumpet has traversed across much of jazz’s topography. He’s shared the bandstand and the studio with the likes of Art Blakey, Benny Carter, Chico Freeman, Dizzy Gillespie, Houston Person, Bobby Previte, Mongo Santamaria, and Randy Weston. And that heady list doesn’t even touch his close association with Chicago’s AACM gang, such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Lester Bowie. This long time veteran sideman has led on albums himself since 1994’s Another’s Point of View, cutting several records for the respected Enja jazz imprint.
Today (April 7), he’s releasing another album that once again converts all that valuable experience into composing, band leading and, not minimally, trumpet playing. Push comes from Allen’s Edjalen Music label and for this outing, he assembled a septet, an ensemble in that certain size in between a small combo and a big band. There are three horns in all with Keith Loftis (tenor sax) and Dion Tucker (trombone) playing alongside Allen, and the tried-and-true acoustic piano/standup bass/drums rhythm section comprised of Mark Soskin, Kenny Davis and EJ Strickland, respectively.
Taken with Allen’s background, this suggests a soul-jazz hard bop fest Blakey style and that’s pretty close to the mark, but Allen puts a modern twist on it with the seventh player, synthesizer player Misha Tsiganov.
Some might believe that the mere appearance of an instrument that didn’t exist in 1960 taints the integrity of the jazz being played, but it’s always a better guide to listen to how it’s being used, and it’s clear that Allen’s use of Tsiganov’s keys doesn’t at all interfere with the mission of making a straight ahead jazz record. The synth strings pushed in the background subtly provide harmonic heft on tunes like “Nakia,” “Caress” and “With Open Arms,” and is made to mimic marimba and vibes parts (“Sacred Ground” and “Eve Deceived”) and even a clavinet on the snappy “Hillside Strut.” Tsiganov also lays down some synth solos that are inline with the spirit of bop for several of the tunes.
The main meat of the record is that front line, however. “Nakia” makes clear that Allen is a sharp arranger, as the horn charts are silky smooth. “Caress” boasts a majestic beginning; Davis’ poetic bass is set against the stately horns before the song eases its way into a breezy reggae rhythm. For “Push,” Strickland’s drums trade fours with Davis at first, followed by Allen, Loftis and Tucker, and then Tsiganov’s electric keys. Each of the horn players take turns soloing individually, as does Soskin, but Strickland’s driving funk pulse underpins the whole thing.
In fact, everyone taking solos is another hallmark of this album (as it was with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), and Allen has a solid collection of soloists. The leader himself is a colorful improviser, owning a mostly pure but slightly affected tone that’s often been compared favorably with Lee Morgan. I find his style is best displayed on the albums only cover, “Who Can I Turn To?”, a ballad backed only by the acoustic rhythm section. Loftis possesses a thick toned sax sound that often offers contrast to Allen’s pure timbre. Tucker has a few good turns, too, especially on “Whispers In The Dark,” where he’s evocative of Curtis Fuller.
Push doesn’t push out the boundaries of jazz nor does it seek to, but it’s a fine culmination of the background, acumen and resourcefulness of Eddie Allen.
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