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Owen McNally writes about jazz and other music events in Connecticut's Jazz Corridor, stretching from the tip of Fairfield County, right through New Haven and Hartford, and on up beyond the state into the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Keep up with the best our area has to offer in music.

Saxophonist JD Allen Brings Luminous Bloom to the Hartford Jazz Scene

JD Allen.

A man for all seasons, tenor saxophonist JD Allen plays ballads with warmth, beauty and truth, grooves hard in a post-bop mode or wails in a free jazz setting with passion saturated with the soulful spirituality, grace and inspired abandon recalling the power and the glory of John Coltrane.

Both as an instrumentalist and composer, Allen has that most rare quality: a voice of his own rooted in a keen awareness of both the old and the new, an artistic consciousness and hipness that yields what The New York Times describes as “an enigmatic, elegant and hard-driving style.”

Celebrating his latest release, Bloom, Allen leads his quartet from that Savant Records studio session as he performs at 8:00 pm on Friday, October 24, forThe Hartford Jazz Societyat the Polish National Home at 60 Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford. His compatible collaborators -- all attuned to his non-conformist leaps of imagination -- are pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Alexander Claffy, and Hartford’s own Jonathan Barber, a fine young drummer ascending to national acclaim.

Allen’s wide-ranging palette this time out, he said, includes inspiration from the 20th century classical composers Oliver Messiaen, evocatively shown in Evans’s dark, mystery-drenched harmonies, as well as the use of Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone scale.

Besides five adventurous original works, including the enigmatically opaque opening piece, “Jack’s Glass,” Allen’s diverse repertoire embraces Hoagy Carmichael’s venerable American Songbook standard, “Stardust”; TaddDameron’s classic jazz ballad, “If You Could See Me Now”; a hallowed rendition of “Pater Noster (The Lord’s Prayer),” and a high-speed cruise through a blues called “Car-Car (The Blues).”

“Pater Noster” is in the grand tradition of sanctified versions by Sarah Vaughan and gospel great Mahalia Jackson. With Allen at the wheel, “Car-Car” is a celebratory, smooth-running blues vehicle, a festive ride out in the fresh air, punctuated with overblown notes and an irrepressible spirit reminiscent of the Trane tracks on Blue Trane.

For all his ecumenical embrace of styles and mastery of his horn, Allen plays with wise restraint, never going on chorus after chorus, and always allotting generous amounts of time for his collaborators while encouraging tight, crisp interaction that nurtures Bloom throughout.

With the longest piece running just a fraction over six minutes, concision is Allen's Golden Rule. Thought and feeling are tightly compressed into his original pieces, which are finite universes created in his own image and without long-winded solos whirled without end. Instead of the musical equivalent of an epic, inscrutable novel, he creates finely wrought short stories.

Even with his rhythm section surging fiercely underneath his solos -- as on his composition "A Throng of Millions Can Be One" -- Allen sheds sublime light without hogging the limelight. Collective interaction rather than self-indulgent hyperventilation rules. On “The Rule of Thirds,” for example, there’s typically much to listen to all at once as you take in the simultaneous actions of not only Allen’s tenor, but also Claffy’s classy arco bass, Barber’s crackling rhythms and Evans’ eerie chords that take you down a long, dark, sinuous corridor.

Credit jazztimes.com
JD Allen performs with his quartet in Central Park, New York.

Allen loves to come up with meaningful titles as verbal signifiers and symbolic gateways to his compositions, much as a painting’s signifying title might provide insight into a canvas’s levels of meaning.

Bloom gives you an idea of his view of the expression, What’s in a name? “Bloom is a title that I’ve had in my notebook for some time,” Allen wrote in the notes for his new disc. “I enjoy working from titles, and feel that titles provide imagery for the composer and the listener to keep in mind,” he said. “Each title should represent a type of mindset to have while listening, a kind of soundtrack without a movie.”

You can check out another facet of Allen’s playing with his sideman role on Orrin Evans’s new release, Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions Records), which brings the two friends together with trumpeterSean Jones, drummer Bill Stewart and bassistLuques Curtis, another gifted, Hartford-born musician on the way up.

Besides the five-piece "Liberation Blues Suite," which Evans dedicates to the late bassist Dwayne Burno, the CD ranges from other originals to compositions by Trudy Pitts and Paul Motian. Along with these are piano trio renditions of “How High the Moon” and a sprint through Miles Davis’s signature sign-off, “The Theme.”

The CD’s relaxed but vibrant quintet pieces, with their invocations of Miles and Monk, are fine modern jazz showcases for Evans and Allen. Motian’s “Mumbo Jumbo” is a free jazz jambalaya seasoned with a Monkish mojo. With horns in ardent dialogue and the rhythm section sizzling, Allen turns up the temperature to an Albert Ayler-like, sanctified fervor.

“He plays a ballad like no one else,” Evans said of his saxophone playing colleague, “and then when it’s time to go to the stratosphere, he’s there with you. JD is a true artist and a true friend.”

As usual with an HJS concert, the main course comes with extra trimmings. These are an opening act, which hits at 7:00 pm and earlier in the day, a free student workshop from 4:30 to 6:00 pm at the venue. The East Catholic High School Jazz Ensemble opens for the Allen Quartet. Tickets: $15.00 in advance/$20.00 at the door, general admission; $10.00 in advance/$15.00 at the door, HJS members; $5.00 students. Available via PayPal at the HJS website, hartfordjazzsociety.com, and at Integrity ‘n Music, Wethersfield. HJS office: (860) 242-6688.

Singers Swooping to Success

Marianne Solivan and Cyrille Aimee, two rising vocalist/composers perform in the region while celebrating their new recordings whose signature styles set them high above a fiercely Darwinian field overpopulated with singer/songwriters struggling to survive. 

Buoyed by her fine new album, Spark (Hipnotic Records), Solivan, an impassioned, dark-toned alto with flawless diction and uncommon musical intelligence, performs at 8:30 pm on Saturday, October 25, at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme. She’s accompanied by pianist John Chin, bassist Neal Caine and drummer Montez Coleman. Tickets: $28.50. Call: (860) 434-0886.

Credit Shervin Lainez
Marianne Solivan.

Spark, which marks Solivan’s second release, displays her talent as an original composer as well as an expressive interpreter of wide-ranging material. It includes a soulful version of Oscar Brown Jr’s. "Hum Drum Blues," a swaggering rendition of "I Wanna Be Around," and romps through "Ooh, What’Cha Doin’ to Me" and "This Is New." Revealing a cabaret side of her multi-faceted persona, she dramatically delivers an angst-ridden rendering of "The Lies of Handsome Men."

Versatilty abounds in Solivan’s really big show.

In a tour de force, she beautifully illuminates Ruben Blades’s "El Cantante," which, drawing on her Nuyorican roots, she sings in fluent Spanish. Besides singing her own translation of a poem by the iconic Spanish poet/playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, she even presents us with an early holiday gift with her warmly wrapped reflection on "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?" It’s all accomplished with the aid of her superb, simpatico studio trio featuring the great pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Matthew Parrish and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

Aimee’s delightful CD, It’s A Good Day (Mack Avenue Records), her major label debut, was released last spring and has already caused a big media splash. All of which heightens anticipation for her performance at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, October 28 at the Iron Horse in Northampton. Tickets: advance $15.00; door $18.00. Information: iheg.com and (413) 586-8686.  

Credit cyrillemusic.com
Cyrille Aimee.

The French-Dominican singer, who was raised primarily in France, is never less than enticingly euphoric whether singing in English or French. Her girlish-sounding yet ultra- smart, pinpoint concise delivery dances exuberantly over upbeat tunes like the Peggy Lee hit, “It’s a Good Day,” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Where Or When.” Her soaring spirits are backed by rollicking, multi-guitar-based accompaniment strongly seasoned with gypsy jazz, invoking the joys of gypsy guitar genius DjangoReinhardt.

As a child, Aimee would sneak out her bedroom window to go visit nearby gypsy encampments teeming with fans and players attending the annual Django Reinhardt Festival in France’s Samois-sur-Seine. There she became mesmerized by guitarists emulating the great Django, which accounts for the gypsy in her soul, or at least in the core of her music. 

Aimee’s ebullient sound is quite different from anything else around. In that sense, her voice’s singularity is reminiscent of the unique sounding, also French and English singing Madeleine Peyroux, but without the rueful side of her delivery.

Her singing is resilient and playful, as in her brisk, bright "Bamboo Shoots," an effervescent cocktail of gypsy jazz and Hawaiian pop, mixed with Cyrille sizzle that never fizzles.

In her zesty signature manner, she takes refreshingly inventive melodic liberties with songs. On "Nuit Blanche" (French for "White Night," meaning insomnia caused by heartbreak), for example, she scats like a Gallic but no less elegant Ella Fitzgerald. Her CD’s expansive repertoire ranges from Juan Tizol and Duke Ellingon’s "Caravan" to -- striking a blow for the preservation of historic hipness -- the legendary bassist Oscar Pettiford’s hardly ever played "Tricotism."

Credit The Wee Trio
The Wee Trio
The Wee Trio.

The Wee Trio’s Giant Reach

Celebrating its new release, Live at the Bistro (Bionic Records), the genre-crossing Wee Trio performs at 8:30 and 10:00 pm on Friday, October 24, at New Haven’s Firehouse 12.

Displaying its king-size stylistic spectrum on its live recording, The Wee Trio’s repertoire ranges from standards to free playing, rock, funk, old and new works and beyond. Its three chameleon performers are vibraphonist James Westfall, bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig. Tickets: $20.00 first set; $15.00 second set. Information: firehouse12.com and (203) 785-0468

String Savant Swings at Yale

Ron Carter, the great modern jazz savant of the double bass, leads his trio at Yale School of Music’s Ellington Jazz Series at 7:30 pm on Friday, October 24, at Morse Recital Hall, located in Sprague Hall, New Haven. Carter’s summa cum laude trio also features guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega.

Besides being a member of Miles Davis’s canonized 1963 quintet, the Grammy Award-winning Carter has appeared on a prodigious number of recordings (one estimate puts it at more than 2,500), and performed with a legion of luminaries ranging from Bill Evans and Eric Dolphy to B.B. King and the Kronos Quartet. Despite his Hall of Fame stats and secure historical status, the 77-year-old maestro still rigorously maintains the highest standards of excellence in every concert he plays. Tickets start at $20.00 (students $10.00) and are available at the Sprague Hall box office, by phone at (203) 432-4158.

24-Karat Vibes Ring at RAW

The noted vibraphonist and mallet percussionist Bryan Carrott is the special guest in the freewheeling Improvisations series at 3:00 pm on Sunday, October 26, at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

An original member of The Ralph Peterson Fo’tet, Carrott has performed with a diverse array of artists ranging from Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve Kroon to David “Fathead” Newman and Cassandra Wilson. He’ll join in on-the-spot experiments in improvisation with the series' curators and regular performers, Joe Morris on guitar and bass and Stephen Haynes on cornet. Tickets: $15.00 general admission; $12.00 members. Information: realartways.org and (860) 232-1006.

Voyage to The Darkseid

Pianist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist Darius Jones, two fearless, fearsome improvisers, unite in The Solos & Duos Series at 8:00 pm on Thursday, October 23, at Bezanson Recital Hall at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The duo’s new recording, The Darkseid Recital, might provide the compass for its bold metaphysical explorations. Tickets: $10.00 general, $5.00 students. Box office: (413) 545-2511.

BBQ at HSO’s Pops! Series

Chris and Dan Brubeck lead their Brubeck Brothers Quartetin concert with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra on opening night for the HSO’s Pops! Series at 7:30 pm on Saturday, October 25, in Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell in Hartford.

Chris, an electric bassist, bass trombonist and composer, and Dan, a drummer, have since their teens been industrious members of the Brubeck musical family dynasty, starting out by recording and touring the world with their famous father Dave Brubeck in a family ensemble that was then called Two Generations of Brubeck.

Besides celebrating their late father’s legacy, Chris and Dan have carved out laudatory careers all their own, including their success as co-leaders of the BBQ along with their collaborators and “honorary Brubeck brothers,” pianist Chuck Lamb and guitarist Mike DeMicco.

The BBQ’s acclaimed 2012 release, LifeTimes (Blue Forrest Records), was a celebration of their beloved father’s music as well as a showcase for the two brothers’ individual talents. Among the CD’s selections were such celebrated compositions by their father as The Duke, his homage to Duke Ellington, and Kathy’s Waltz, his portrait of his daughter Kathy, one of six children raised in Wilton by Dave and his wife, Iola.

“Take Five,” the mega-hit tune written by the DBQ’s brilliant alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, was included on the BBQ’s LifeTimes. Night after night around the world, “Take Five” is the audience’s favorite grand finale for the BBQ, which, with all due deference, puts its own creative spin on the classic piece in 5/4 time, still mesmerizing after all these years. 

Tickets range from $22.50 to $64.50. Information: hartfordsymphony.org and (860) 987-5900.

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.

Owen McNally writes the weekly Jazz Corridor column for WNPR.org as well as periodic freelance pieces for The Hartford Courant and other publications.

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