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JD Allen: Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues

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"Power and allure": JD Allen

As its subtitle suggests, saxophonist-composer JD Allen’s Americana has a distinctly personal slant. Nevertheless, this collection of trio performances, mostly inspired by Allen’s writing, is multifaceted and richly hued. The pieces reflect a wide variety of blues and jazz traditions as well as pivotal connections, beginning with the reedman’s evocative “Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil.” Here Allen adroitly conjures the sound of early rural-blues guitarists who made a habit of introducing tunes with a descending turnaround in thirds or sixths before reaching the tonic chord and embarking on a series of 12-bar choruses. Nearly all of the tunes on Americana follow a harmonically skeletal outline, but as the album unfolds it becomes clear that Allen and his sessionmates are painting on a broad canvas, spacious enough to accommodate a colorful tapestry of sounds and moods.

The latter encompass a sublimely soulful interpretation of Bill McHenry’s “If You’re Lonesome, Then You’re Not Alone” and an expansive, emotionally cathartic rendering of Vera Hall’s vintage hit “Another Man Done Gone.” Bassist Gregg August’s arco lyricism and shadings are particularly expressive, and the support he and drummer Rudy Royston provide Allen never fails to inspire him or enhance the album’s power and allure. As a result, listeners needn’t be familiar with Hall’s place in blues history or recognize Ornette Coleman’s intermittent influence to appreciate the deep resonance Allen and company bring to Americana.

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Originally Published