There is the tried and trite practice of dipping into
the “American Songbook,” remaking jazz standards that have been remade
and remade. On the other hand, there is the more focused effort to
recapture the magic, while at the same time making it fresh and
personal. That’s the approach saxophonist Harry Allen takes with For
George, Cole and Duke (Blue Heron Records, 2015), his tribute to
the songs of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.
Allen plays tenor sax. With him are Ehud Asherie, piano; Nicki Parrott,
upright bass and vocals; Chuck Redd, drums and vibraphone; and special
guest, “Little Johnny” Rivero, shakers, conga and bongo on three tracks.
Parrott sings lead on the Ellington/Gabler collaboration, “In a Mellow
Tone.” Asherie lays the foundation, with Allen coming in with fills
after vocal lines. It’s a bright, delightful adaptation of the classic.
The piano break adds to that mood. Allen does likewise when it’s his
turn out front. As if singing weren’t enough, Parrott also contributes a
bass solo, in call and response with Redd.
Rivero steps in, and Redd switches to vibes for the ensemble’s take on
Ellington’s “Purple Gazelle (Angelina).” The combination makes for a
Latin mood. One can almost hear a little Paquito D’Rivera in Allen’s
play, and Lionel Hampton in Redd’s.
Allen injects some finger-snapping, toe-tapping energy to “Shall We
Dance?” by George and Ira Gerswhin. He puts the tenor through an
invigorating, bouncy jaunt. Asherie shows what they mean by tickling the
ivory. The fingers seem to glide effortlessly among the notes with
extreme precision. Redd gives the toms a strenuous workout during his
solo near the end.
Allen is recognized as a paragon of mainstream saxophone styling.
For George, Cole and Duke captures that perfectly. The album is
also the debut release for Blue Heron Records. With headquarters in
Hondo, New Mexico, the label promotes “Artistic Integrity First,”
planning a catalogue devoted to mainstream jazz, blues and Latin music.