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recording of the week,J.D. Allen III - THIS

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    Posted: 01 Dec 2023 at 12:25pm
You’ve got to get out of the city before it swallows you up. The expansive city skyline is clouded with a thinly-layered coating of smog. The pincer-like menace of a helicopter’s rotor blades scans past you from left to right as it hovers overhead. A choked gaggle of sirens rages in the background above the rush hour traffic, contaminating the main road leaving town. Outside, murky patches of translucent ice carpet the pavement — be careful not to slip. 

This could be a description of the saxophonist J.D. Allen’s New York City-home, or equally the wintery East London locale in which he recorded his latest album THIS at the beginning of 2023. In either case, the stage is set for the American musician and his frolicking tenor to set up shop and find common ground between his UK-based trio of drummer Gwilym Jones and electronics effects wizard Alex Bonney. Coming as a drastic left-turn for the card-carrying maestro of post-bop, Allen seeks to push beyond his limitations (self-imposed or otherwise) that would normally inhibit any presumed ‘traditionalist’. He does so in this case by engaging with an unhinged rhythmic enterprise, combined with the hauntingly unconventional sonorities of synthetic drones and purrs. 


The record fades in with the humdrum ringing of Bonney’s electronic modules, under which Jones sweeps his brushes with a casual but intrepid sense of variation. Shrouded in darkness, the opening title track ‘This’ is a bleak introduction to the album’s moody sound world. Like something plucked from the latest David Lynch project, it awakens a deep desire in the listener that somehow leaves one yearning for more frights, thrills and dreams. And boy, do we get it. The piece that immediately follows the album’s cold opening, ‘The Revelator’, couldn’t be any more different, with its rhythmically-charged sense of urgency and barrage of free-flowing lyrical ideas. The ensemble’s lithe sway owes as much to the spluttering shuffle of drums as it does the clear and open-minded interpretation of Allen’s compositions, with each musician offering their own adept musical accompaniment. No matter how unique their own motivic contributions may be, it all somehow blends together to form a fully-fledged product of musical strength and courage. 

With tracks such as ‘Mr Fairweather’ and ‘Know Dogs Allowed’, Allen embraces an optimistic sense of melodic adventure, whilst his colleagues embellish their sonic canvas with as much brute force as Jackson Pollock might have applied to one of his many drip paintings. Whether it’s the relentless back beat of Jones’ ride cymbal, or the leader’s cavorting round different tonal centres as he bounds like Tarzan from tree to tree, it is obvious that these musicians derive a certain playfulness from their shared experiences and congruous attitudes. Later on, the quasi-choral textures of ‘The Knight of Swords’ contribute towards the ensemble's graceful possession of an almost mournful quality. 

At times, this record can indeed both sound and feel uncomfortable, what with its propensity to avoid easy answers and skirt around moments of prolonged sonic ambiguity. But, for all its challenging passages of uncertain discomfort, the rich reward of the tenorist's vision only increase with the album's duration. Often, the obstacle is the way, or, as Allen puts it, 'the process is the music'. What follows as the feelings of creativity develop and expand is an amalgamation of individualities, gathered in the sense of honest communication and open-minded love for their art.  



J.D. Allen III

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Barney Whittaker

from www.prestomusic.com

Edited by snobb - 01 Dec 2023 at 12:26pm
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