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JD Allen: Graffiti

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Throughout Graffiti, saxophonist JD Allen’s music creates a strong sense of familiarity: a rubato melody driven by rolling drums and impassioned Trane-like tenor; a snaky Rollins-esque riff; even some folk qualities that acknowledge Ornette Coleman. But, per usual, it’s all in the delivery; for Allen, that means creating a signature sound by moving too fast to rest on any one of these strong influences. His longtime bandmates, Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums), contribute to the singularity of the ensemble by both accentuating the leader and creating resistance.

Although the high-energy performance should appeal to anyone with open ears, Allen provides notes explaining each track. “Disambiguation” might sound merely like an alternate take of the earlier “Jawn Henry,” but the saxophonist includes the former to downplay the melody and emphasize the trio’s interaction in the halftime-to-double-time foundation. “G-dspeed, B. Morris” pays tribute to the late conductor and composer Butch Morris but keeps things inside, with a solo that is at once spirited and deeply pensive. Even in calmer moments like this, Royston’s elastic rolls and crashes fill the space without overwhelming the group sound. August is always at the ready, adding strong double-stops for color.

In “Sonny Boy,” inspired not by Rollins but by John Lee Hooker, Allen sticks closely to a call-and-response riff that burns from start to finish. And by keeping his tunes on the economical side-only one surpasses seven minutes, one clocks in under three-he distills his ideas down to their best elements. This is one of his strongest sets in an already prolific discography.

Originally Published