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New York State of Mind by Harry Allen

This is a world-class, straight-ahead jazz outing swinging and lyrical. Most contemporary tenors are still trying to catch up with John Coltrane. Harry Allen owes more to Lester Young via Zoot Sims. Here he dances through a program of 11 tunes inspired by New York. Several are surprises for a jazz session, but they all work thanks to what he and his coworkers find in them.

The leadoff, "Puttin' on the Ritz," is a perfect example. Too corny for jazz? Wrong. In these hands, it's a happy, bouncy ride. After a neatly-harmonized statement of the melody by Allen and trombonist John Allred, multiple choruses go in turn to tenor, trombone and piano. Next, drummer Chuck Riggs trades eights with each of the soloists, then it's back to Allen and Allred to take it out.

"Harlem Nocturne" is the beautiful, torchy follow-up and it's all Allen. Since it was first written in 1939, every altoist in the country has played it, including this amateur. On tenor it has a different vibe, bluer and more poignant.

"Broadway Melody" from 1929 is difficult to bring into today's world. This arrangement doesn't try. Pianist Rossano Sportiello's second chorus even includes a bit of strong left-hand stride with bass and drums getting into the spirit as they realize what he's doing.

It's back to melancholy-tinged nostalgia with "Autumn in New York." But this time, right from the seldom-heard intro, Allen is joined by Allred who demonstrates an equal talent for the tenderly lyrical. It's another gorgeous standard, beautifully played.

And so it goes. Not a clunker in the group. Moods alternate between ballad and up. Five tracks feature Allen leading a quartet. Allred joins in on the other six.

Harry Allen isn't as well known as the more veteran Scott Hamilton, but he should be. Like Hamilton, he apparently knows every song ever written and has a seemingly effortless technique. We hear wonderfully melodic use of the changes at slower speeds, and exuberant runs, leaps and splashes at fast tempos. Add an impeccable sense of rhythm, and tone control ranging from gentle to growling burr, and you have a performer who couldn't be much better in his preferred style. Warmly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Harry Allen
  • CD Title: New York State of Mind
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Challenge Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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