In his long overdue Birdland debut, tenorman Harry Allen displayed his trademark rich melodic tone, an intrinsic ability to swing and beautifully structured phrasing. Active on the scene for a little more than a decade and with firm roots in mainstream, Allen, 33, has clearly been influenced by such timeless masters of the ‘cool’ as Lester Young, Stan Getz and Zoot Sims.
Jule Styne’s “Just in Time” served as the warm-up, and Allen lost little time in exhibiting the dexterity and control of his instrument. In “Lover, Come Back to Me,” the formidable backup trio provided strong support with Bill Charlap’s rich and imaginative piano chords and a hard-driving but tasteful drum solo from WBGO jock and self-proclaimed jazz maniac Kenny Washington.
Allen’s repertoire is firmly rooted in American popular standards, and in his lustrous interpretations, the tunes sound freshly minted and crisply alive. From a recent RCA CD dedicated to the memory of Duke Ellington, Allen also illustrated the influence of tenor giant Ben Webster with the wonderfully rich and bold tone he adopted for “Just Squeeze Me.” He also recalled another Webster landmark performance with his own gutsy attack on “Cottontail.”
On Antonio Carlos Jobim’s enveloping “Corcovado” (“Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”), Allen displayed the classic finesse of the legendary Zoot Sims by inserting a bright swinging phrase and following it with the lilting structural framework of the ballad. His phrasing is always rich, imaginative and surprising.
Allen labeled “I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her” his favorite ballad, and invested the Jimmy Van Heusen torcher with rich emotional phrasing. The tune, also a Sinatra favorite, retained its emotional luster sans lyrics. Allen’s soulful phrasing fully expressed the heartbreak of the moment.
Charlap took a bracing and boldly romping solo turn with Cole Porter’s “All Through the Night,” accompanied by some tight, dazzling brush work by drummer Washington and a lean walking bass solo by Peter Washington.
Allen follows Manhattan date with a Sunday night turn at popular New Jersey venue Shanghai Jazz; he returns to Birdland on Nov. 10 to back singer Nancy Kelly.