Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Harry Allen: Rhythm on the River

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Rhythm on the River

Readers of this blog know that my taste in music leans more toward modern genres — straight-ahead, bop, funk, etc. — than the earlier forms of traditional jazz. But that doesn’t mean the artists who produce the latter style aren’t good, or can’t deliver quite entertaining stuff. Such is the case with this album, headed by saxman Harry Allen.

Allen and his quintet members aren’t youngsters, but they aren’t that old, either; they range in age from the late 30s to the early 60s. Allen’s style is a combination of Scott Hamilton and Flip Phillips, with a pinch of Stan Getz’s “smoother than honey and cream” tone.

Warren Vache, who plays cornet here, evokes Roy Eldridge and Ruby Braff, while being much smoother than either, and a lot more innovative. Pianist Rossano Spontiello — regarded by Barry Harris as “the best stride pianist I’ve ever heard” — is light on the keys and extremely smooth. The rhythm section, consisting of bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs, is as tasty as they get: solid, but never obtrusive.

This release contains a baker’s dozen of grand, traditional tunes, written by icons such as Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Burke, Richard Rogers and others of that time period. As the album title indicates, the operational word is “River”: “Cry Me a River,” “Rhythm on the River,” “Lazy River,” “Sleepy River” and many more. They’re all done superbly: an overused descriptor, but accurate in this case. The ballads are beautiful, and the more up-tempo melodies are just as danceable.

You’ll enjoy every selection on this wonderful album, along with the memories it’ll bring back.

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