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Mike Allen Trio
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Mike Allen Trio
Quintet / Quartet

 

"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."

-Andy Hurlbut

Quintet
Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
Benoit Charest (guitar)
Tilden Webb (piano)
Alec Walkington (bass)
Dave Robbins (drums)

Quartet
Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
David Grott (trombone)
Doug Weiss (bass)
Marc Miralta (drums)

Mike Allen Trio
One Step Closer

 

"Tenormen Mike Allen and John Nugent know their bebop. Allen's One Step Closer and Nugent's West Of Flatbush evoke the magic of those old Blue Note discs, the eager anticipation as you dropped the needle on the wax, the smile on your face as the notes swarmed in the air. That joy is present on much of these discs. This is not the powpowpow up'nadam fastfasterfastest Be-bop. This is more modal, more introspective, and most invigorating performances. Mike Allen's renderings of Milestones and Body And Soul both offer lilting behind the beat tenor, and the infectiousness of Down The Line is the type of refrain that will go through your head for days."

Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
Brad Turner (trumpet & flugelhorn)
Miles Black (piano)
André Lachance (bass)
Dylan van der Schyff (drums)

Mike Allen Trio
One Side of a Circle

 

"Vancouver tenor saxophonist Mike A!len must have had a difficult time trying to decide whether to go with a small combo or a larger unit, and so, he splits the difference. Four of the eight Allen compositions on One Side of a Circle are for quartet (Allen, guitarist Bill Coon, bassist Darren Radtke, drummer David Robbins), while the remaining four are performed by an octet (the quartet rounded out by Brad Turner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jill Townsend on trombone, Dave Say on tenor saxophone and Miles Black on piano". Either way, the band presents some serious, and occasionally playfull, straight-ahead jazz. Allen is a strong mainstream player who sometimes shows the earthy huskiness of Joe Henderson, and the swing instincts of Chris Potter, two sides of him evident on the quartet number Profit and Suffering. Allen can be a robust bebopper, building chorus after chorus on Rollins' Roots, also a quartet tune (hints of the influence of Sonny Rollins are everywhere on this record). The octet tunes are a full musical meal, with Black's work on piano proving he is one of the best jazz pianists in the country."

-Marke Andrews

Mike Allen (tenor saxophone)
Bill Coon (guitar)
Darren Radtke (bass)
Brad Turner (trumpet & flugelhorn)
Jill Townsend (trombone)
Dave Say (tenor saxophone)
Miles Black (piano)
Dave Robbins (drums)

Mike Allen Trio
Change Is

 

"Sonny Rollins proved that tenor/bass/drums trio would work and Canadian tenorist Mike Allen's Change Is, is yet one more verification of its effectiveness. Indeed, Allen's own style owes a debt to 1950's Rollins, although Allen's tone lacks Rollins' huskiness and his playing doesn't quite reach Rollins' intensity level. Instead, in this mix of standards and originals, ranging from quiet ballads to exhilarating up-tunes, the tenorist demonstrates a big but smooth sound throughout the range of his horn and generally approaches the material in a comparatively subdued manner. Drummer Dave Robbins' frequent use of his brushes serves to reinforce the calm ambiance. A notable exception, however, is Robbins' own "At the Mark" on which he brings out the sticks and sets the leader up for his most impassioned work on the album.

Through thoughtful interaction of the three instruments, including the frequent use of Darren Radtke's bass as a second melodic voice, the ensemble keeps the music interesting, thereby avoiding the most common pitfall associated with groups lacking a chordal instrument. And it helps that Allen's improvisations swing effortlessly and eschew stock cliches in favor of more inventive phraseology. Drummer Robbins keeps solid time and whether using sticks or brushes, makes his own contribution to the rhythmic interest of the proceedings."

-David Franklin

Mike Allen Trio
dialectic

Label: Almus ALM11092 • 2003

Ottawa Citizen

"Few acts are harder to pull off in jazz than the saxophone trio.  Without the harmonic signposts usually supplied by a piano or guitar, and without the variety they add as soloing instruments, the sax-bass-drums lineup can be tough to make interesting over an entire album.

Unless you play like Mike Allen.

Echoes of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Joe Lovano resonate through Allen's work, but the Vancouver-based saxman has channelled them into a voice of his own, by turns soulful, intense, lush and dynamic.

Aided by the stellar Paul Rushka on bass and Julian MacDonough on drums, Allen is mindful of the need to offer a broad mix of originals and standards such as Nette's Cept and Everytime We Say Goodbye and to ensure none of the tunes overstays its welcome."

-Doug Fischer

Mike Allen (tenor, soprano saxophone)
Julian MacDonough (drums)
Paul Rushka (bass)

Mike Allen Trio
fearless

Label: Almus ALM12552 • 2004

"...Allen writes all but one of the pieces for this recording. His writing is intelligent, melodic and always beautiful. Several tunes on this CD are very reflective and sedate in pace - truly gorgeous and moving. But when the group wants to cook, they can fly with the best of them. These pieces sound like they could be part of the jazz standards repertoire...

The trio is joined by pianist George McFetridge who integrates very well into this group; one that is used to performing as a piano-less, guitar-less trio. He provides that harmonic pad that is always implied in the trio, but does so in a very sparse and un-obtrusive manner, so the original spirit of the Mike Allen Trio is kept intact."

-Lyle Rebbeck

Mike Allen (tenor, alto and soprano saxes)
George McFetridge (piano)
Julian MacDonough (drums)
Paul Rushka (bass) all tracks except 5, 7
Adam Thomas (bass) tracks 5, 7