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Harry Allen: For George, Cole and Duke

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Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen’s discography is filled with tribute albums, to personal heroes ranging from Billy Strayhorn to Zoot Sims, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Henry Mancini. Two of the heroes on For George, Cole and Duke have already been subjects of album-length homages by Allen-2000’s Harry Allen Plays Ellington Songs and the following year’s Cole Porter Songbook-and he’s been to the Gershwin well numerous times before. This is music with which Allen is comfortable and deeply intimate. He plays it with authority and elegance, and while he’s not exactly breaking new ground with his interpretations, he gives it his heart and soul. Sometimes that’s all you need.

For this set, Allen teams with pianist Ehud Asherie, bassist Nicki Parrott and Chuck Redd on drums and vibes, with Little Johnny Rivero supplying percussion on three tracks. Parrott also sings. On a drum-less reading of the Gershwins’ “How Long Has This Been Going On?” she floats, silkily, above Redd’s vibes and Asherie’s piano, relinquishing the reins only briefly to Allen’s Getz-like solo. On “Mood Indigo,” one of the Ellington standards, she straddles the line between blues and pop naturally, a trace of Billie in her sensual delivery.

Most of the recording is strictly instrumental though, and although this isn’t a group bent on breaking into deep grooves, they can muster up both the seriously swinging (“In a Mellow Tone,” “Shall We Dance”) and midtempo exercises that leave ample space for each player to open up (“They All Laughed,” “Always True to You in My Fashion”). There are no liner notes from Allen explaining why he grouped these particular composers on one single volume, but it all coheres. Guess he just likes ’em.

Originally Published