Top quality songs treated in a respectfully intelligent and virtuosic way.
Patrick Johns 2010
New York State of Mind, the second release on Challenge Records by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, is a collection of well-known and rather-less-obvious songs all connected by a common theme: the Big Apple. As with his previous release Hits by Brits, Allen uses the excellent rhythm section of pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs, and they are joined on six tracks by the wonderful trombone of John Allred, a star in his own right.
Whilst Allen’s playing shows clear influences from more modern masters, it is firmly rooted in the classic style of the 40s and 50s saxophone giants such as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. And this is no bad thing, especially when combined with the right song choices, something else at which Allen excels.
With a handful of exceptions, all the songs here date from the early days of jazz, the kind of material that Allen’s forefathers also knew and played. These include rarer songs such as Sidewalks of New York (dating back to 1894) and Cole Porter’s Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor, all played with Allen’s confidently robust swagger and seemingly inexhaustible melodic invention.
The band also really swings on more familiar territory, the standout tracks being Puttin’ on the Ritz and what the inlay notes remind us is “one of the good old ones”: Chinatown My Chinatown. Special credit here, too, to Allred, who sounds like Abe Lincoln, Carl Fontana and Jack Teagarden all rolled into one incredible trombonist.
Even the two forays into the 1970s work beautifully: the title track is a respectful version of Billy Joel’s 1970s hit, and a skilful reinterpretation of New York, New York really shows what is possible with this song once all Sinatra tokenism is removed.
This album is perfect for those who like to hear top quality songs treated in a respectfully intelligent and yet still virtuosic way. It may not break any new ground, but who wants to do that when there’s still so much more to say about the old?