May 17, 2011
Much of jazz carries this sort of unspoken braggadocio. From the self-assured bravado that leads to the unexplored territory of improvisation to the inherent narcissism that quite literally defines the jazz solo, the genre often works within a sense of self. And yet, the minute I pressed play, I felt a certain sense of modesty emanating from the sounds of the JD Allen Trio. I suppose that this is a trait common in contemporary saxophonists considering the instruments legacy within musicianship. Whatever it may be, it is clear that the JD Allen Trio carries a certain quiet humility throughout its work.
And that was what first caught my attention. Because when I was introduced to an album titled Victory!, I expected something else. This exclamatory mark contradicts the demure trajectory of the project. Immediately, we are presented with this idea as the opening track, aptly titled “Victory!,” opens auspiciously with an escalating drumroll and a gentle strumming of the upright bass. The minute JD Allen approaches with his tenor saxophone, it is very much understood that this track is more “Naima” and less “Cousin Mary.”
With this album we are privy to the growth a tightly bound group of musicians, who have built their artistic prowess as a collective unit. JD Allen joined by bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston have all seemed to reach a level of comfort only found with time well spent. In a recent interview with Jazz Times, Royston had this to say, “The tunes aren’t so jumpy, because we trust each other. In the beginning, we had this kind of abandonment when we played, because we really didn’t know each other’s playing that much…But now we’ve evolved to a point where we know when something is going to happen, so we can relax more and think about what we’re going to do.” It is because of this that the JD Allen Trio is effectively able to remove much of that superficial layer of extravagance and play with the calm of seasoned veterans.
This is not to say that the music is completely void of vigor. On tracks such as “Motif” and “Mr. Steepy,” Allen effortlessly grooves atop swift rhythms and colorful bass lines. But even during the album’s most sprightly moment, heard on “The Pilot’s Compass” the melancholic archetype remains. It is not sad, but most certainly aware. Both its moments of swiftness and leisure are engorged within a spirit of reflection—one that can only be mustered by a matured collective.
The album concludes with the cleverly placed “Recapitulation (The Pilot’s Compass).” Here we find an early song reprised, wholly tying the project together. And this, I believe, is the greatest strength of the JD Allen Trio. It is, without a doubt, a cohesive project, tied together with a theme both sonically and conceptually. In just over thirty-six minutes of time, the JD Allen Trio is able to capture a meditative state in its simplest form. If we are to compare JD Allen’s sound with the great John Coltrane, as so many have already done, this is the encapsulation of his “Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.” With their most recent project, the JD Allen Trio has truly managed to capture the essence of their psyche with a fully-developed sound. This is the trio’s greatest victory.
NPR is now streaming Victory! in full as part of their First Listen feature! Listen here.
For more info on JD Allen Trio: http://www.jdallennow.com
Words by Paul Pennington