Forever and Always by Antonio Allen – reviewed by Chris Mann

"A truly rounded musician who deserves to be in some very illustrious company".

Saxman and composer Antonio Allen grew up in a house full of musicians, and has loved music since his earliest days. While still young, Antonio began attending rehearsals with his oldest brother who had his own band in the late 70's. His love of soulful music derived from his family’s heavy involvement in church music.

Antonio first picked up the saxophone at eight years of age. He started his own band at 14. At 15, he received his first paying gig in a popular night club in the Atlanta area. Because of his young age, Antonio was only allowed on stage and in a dressing room behind the stage. At that club, Antonio met and opened for Stevie Wonder, Al B Sure, Peabo Bryson, Jermaine Jackson and Jean Carne. With that experience under his belt, Antonio continued to perform all over the city. During the 90's, Antonio could be seen regularly on Atlanta’s jazz scene perfecting his sweet sound in an impressive number of venues.

Antonio has performed with bassist, Wayman Tisdale, R&B legend Jean Carne and platinum recording artist, Silk. A truly special moment came when he performed Mr. Magic live on stage at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta with his musical idol, Kirk Whalum. Antonio has recorded with vocalist Mark Kibble of Take 6 and Speech of Arrested Development.

The church has remained as important to Antonio as his place on Seattle’s jazz map and he remains in touch by playing at churches up and down the USA’s east coast. His first CD, indeed, was titled “Lost Without Hymn”. This second CD continues in the gospel vein whilst offering up a hip, urban vibe.

Allen’s gorgeous soprano tone makes itself felt immediately on All I Want, which has a gentle groove and layers of that sax sound. Instantly, you have all you need. On Tell Me Why, synth bass and clipped drums give the track a bounce and this time the sax is joined by lovely muted trumpet. Very classy.

They Don’t Know is deeply romantic but still has a slow, urban backbeat. The background vocals complement the delicate sax really well. There’s a grand gospel feel to When a Child Smiles, where the sax line is doubled by piano. This song really moves beautifully. The piano solo is tasteful and completes an already superb ensemble performance.

I’m on the beach listening to the ocean, well in my head I am, when that ‘bounce’ and Antonio’s pretty sax wash over me during Down With Me. It’s a sunny day! The title track has drama and it’s a classic ballad. The lush piano provides a suitable backdrop to the soprano sax melody. There’s a lovely steel-strung guitar solo to add the final touch.

The guitar sound on One For AJ is electric and very distorted, and almost threatens to overwhelm the sax but Allen’s phrasing shines out on another grand, emotional number. It’s the funky, groove-laden Just For You that’s on permanent repeat on my CD player though... The phat bass, drum machine and percussion keep my head nodding. The gritty sax on the bridge, whistling and some real ‘Blue Note’ moments from Joey Somerville on flugelhorn and muted trumpet make me grin from ear to ear. The keyboards are very cool too. It’s my favourite song – oh really Chris?? Outstanding!

Real emotion is reserved for Awesome God, which showcases Allen’s gospel side and impresses with a pretty melody, some lovely acoustic guitar and great string sounds. AJ’s Reprise is followed by the stately and romantic This Day, which I am sure Antonio must have played at number of the weddings where he provides that touch of class in the proceedings.

I’m fascinated by how the world of gospel music is expanding due to its readiness to embrace jazz, funk and R&B. Antonio Allen is a great exponent of that fusion and his talent as a saxophonist could almost make you overlook the fact that he wrote and produced almost everything here and contributed bass, drum and percussion tracks to several songs – but please don’t. He is a truly rounded musician who deserves to be in some very illustrious company.




  A2 Productions LLC – NA1210 Producers – Antonio Allen, Phil Davis, Jon Roberts