Friday, January 15, 2016

JD Allen - Graffiti (2015)

Graffiti, tenorist JD Allen’s ninth album as a leader and his fourth consecutive project for the Savant label, could be considered a back-to-basics affair. The piano component that altered his core trio concept is gone. His regular sidemen, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, are back on board. At this point their relationship the three players are so aligned and intuitively responsive to each other that the challenge for Allen amounts to devising variable means to confront and test these bonds while keeping the processes and outcomes accessible to an audience. Turn the focus too far inward and the risk becomes potential estrangement. It’s a balancing act that these musicians have become experts at accomplishing.

Allen’s also onto something with his candid self-penned liners, which begin with a sincere expression of gratitude to listeners for spending time with his music. Next come edifying annotations for the disc’s nine tracks that express his general intent and designs on each. That’s it. Yet another manifestation of the no-nonsense approach he’s become known for over the course of his career. The compositions reflect the same in aural form, presenting a series of friendly obstacle courses hinged on spontaneous and collective choice-making. Each piece presents a clear set of parameters while ensuring that the ensuing permutations retain both momentum and flexibility. Allen even inserts a (relatively) straightforward swinger “Indigo (Blue Like)” replete with a walking bass line almost as a palate cleanser.

August sits out on the opening “Naked” leaving Allen and Royston to negotiate a melodic progression within an illusory, but finite bar structure with explosive results. “Jawn Henry” references the eponymous folk song in feel with Allen going for a vocalized tone on his tenor against a vaguely calypso vamp. “Third Eye” sets up the instruments in potentially oppositional roles in the service of tension and the title piece takes the conceit even further in transposing a completely different piece on top of a preexisting tune to once again force the players to pick sides, this time with tenor and drums converging in confluent contrast to the bass, which tethers loyally to the original line.

Blues forms also factor prominently into the program with “Little Mack” and “Sonny Boy” reflecting two facets. The first works off an earlier melodic kernel while the second presents another example of Allen transposing another vocal syntax, this time based in the idiosyncratic inflections of John Lee Hooker, through his horn against a gospelish vamp. “G-dspeed, B. Morris” honors the titular composer, forgoing complexity in favor of a loping groove and lilting melody that carries distant echoes of Coltrane’s “Naima”. Once again August and Royston operate on parallel planes in buttressing Allen’s lead.

Three-quarters of an hour evaporates in a flash, but the LP-sized length feels just right. Rather than inciting a longing for additional material the impulse instead is for an immediate repeat trip through the itinerary that exists. Derek Taylor

JD Allen (tenor sax)
Gregg August (bass)
Rudy Royston (drums)

1. Naked
by Jd Allen

2. Jawn Henry
by Jd Allen

3. Third Eye
by Jd Allen

4. Graffiti
by Jd Allen

5. G-dspeed, B. Morris
by Jd Allen

6. Little Mack
by Jd Allen

7. Sonny Boy
by Allen, JD

8. Indigo (Blue Like)
by Jd Allen

9. Disambiguation
by Jd Allen