"It is tempting to think of Mike Allen's (Quintet/Quartet) as two distinct albums, so different are the two ensembles in stylistic approach and musical reach. Even the sound from the two sessions - recorded by the same team at CBC-Montreal - is remarkably dissimilar. The only common ground is the leader's full-bodied tenor and subtle compositions.
The quintet takes the stage first, launcing into Allen's One Side of a Circle with such quiet purpose and intent focus that by the end of the first phrase you are fully under their spell.
The beautiful, menacing, slightly overdriven guitar of Benoit Charest claims first rights to solo and delivers fluid lines that are at once relaxed and full of latent energy. Allen's tenor follows - bright, dynamic and challenging - probing deep into the musical ferment. Beneath him, bassist Alec Walkington and drummer Dave Robbins build a propulsive wall of sound. Tilden Webb tempers the fires with a reflective turn at the piano, remarkable for its thick-handed reharmonizations and delicate melodic touch.
The remaining four compositions of the quintet set are no less awesome, each featuring a combination of compelling soloing and seamless, deeply grooving ensemble work.
McCoy Tyner's Blues On The Corner enjoys a decade-spanning treatment encompassing Allen's '50s-style R&B wails, Charest's acid-tinged '60s rock and Webb's nod to the Herbie Hancock Headhunter days. The Robbins ballad Then There Was You offers a lovely but all too brief solo turn for Walkington.
Allen's Luna Crescente is a long, complex and hauntingly beautiful ballad, somewhat in the style of Coltrane's Central Park West, which manages to be completely satisfying in spite of one harmonic sequence which confounds each soloist (the composer included) in turn. The set ends with a gently swinging original, Something For Tony, which patiently gathers intensity over the course of solos by Webb and Charest, building to Allen's searing denouement.
The quartet of the second set is an intriguing pairing of tenor, trombone, bass and drums. Things start off promisingly with the bright, boppish Nette's 'Cept. Both Allen and trombonist David Grott excel in the wide-open soundscape and deliver over-the-top solos. Wiser Than I and Your Kind Brings Joy tease with good ideas - both compositionally and in performance - but fail to sustain the kind of energy that infuses the rest of the disc.
Bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Marc Miralta never quite sound comfortable, unable to dig down into the music the way their quintet counterparts do. This is due at least in part to the nature of Allen's compositions which demand a great deal of fussy harmonic underpinning from the bassist. That said, the quartet ends the disc strongly with a restless destructured chaccone appropriately entitled In A World Of Their Own.
Mike Allen's world is well worth a visit."
Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
Benoit Charest (guitar)
Tilden Webb (piano)
Alec Walkington (bass)
Dave Robbins (drums)
Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
David Grott (trombone)
Doug Weiss (bass)
Marc Miralta (drums)