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11/16/13

The Byron Allen Trio
The Byron Allen Trio
ESP-Disk
Giuseppi Logan
More
ESP-Disk

When his debut album was released in 1965, ESP called Byron Allen “the spiritual descendant of Charlie Parker,” but at first blush the alto saxophonist sounds more like the man who introduced him to the label, Ornette Coleman. Allen plays with a rough tone that doesn’t always keep up with his musical ideas (he sometimes flubs upper-register notes). On closer examination, however, his solos do include some Bird-like flourishes, something unique among free-jazz players at that time, save perhaps Jimmy Lyons.

The interaction between Allen, Ted Robinson (drums) and Maceo Gilchrist (bass) is loose, to be sure, but they play with energy that wasn’t always heard on ESP albums despite the label’s reputation. Robinson drives the 4/4 pulse of “Time Is Past” with solid snare rolls and crashes. “Three Steps in the Right Direction” is in large part a feature for Gilchrist, who walks rapidly without repeating himself or slowing down. “Decision for the Cole-Man” is a tip of the hat to Ornette, but the group clearly has its own ideas—especially Gilchrist, who alternates quickly between bowing and plucking. “Today’s Blues Tomorrow” rambles, but it also shows the group shaping and reshaping the foundation of the music as they go, finding a groove and just as easily discarding it for something else.

Allen released one more album nearly 15 years after his debut and hasn’t been heard from since. Of all the obscurities in the label’s vast catalog, this one deserves more recognition. He ranks alongside Marion Brown and Sonny Simmons on ESP’s roster of powerhouse alto saxophonists.

Giuseppi Logan was as much of a mystery until he reappeared in New York in the late aughts after years off the grid. While his lack of technique fueled detractors of free jazz, Logan could blow with gusto, and he surrounded himself with musicians who knew how to start a fire. The first half of More, his sophomore ESP release, comes from the same 1965 concert that yielded Albert Ayler’s Bells. It features Don Pullen (piano), Reggie Johnson (bass) and Milford Graves (drums) bolstering Logan’s manic flute and bass clarinet wails. In fact, the leader almost sounds like a guest, adding brief comments between thunderous attacks by Pullen. “Shebar” includes 10 minutes of music left off the original release, although the highlight of this track—Graves’ multidirectional drum solo—comes in the first, previously released half.

Logan might have sounded more convincing if he’d stuck with one instrument long enough to convey a strong voice. The studio portion of More includes a track with Logan on alto, a cut that is virtually interchangeable with the live performance. But “Curve Eleven,” a Logan piano solo, offers a successful sidestep. While his horn playing was primitive, his work on the 88s reveals focus and depth missing from the rest of the album, as he channels Cecil Taylor and explores more pensive ideas.

Originally published in November 2013
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