Spanish Label Reintroduces Our Own Guitar-Great Dave Allen
Untold Stories is Dave Allen's first recording as a leader, but his heavyweight status is confirmed by his sidemen: Seamus Blake on sax (John Scofield, Dave Douglas), Carlo Dross on bass (Donny McCaslin, Brad Shepik, Clarence Penn, and Vijay Iyer), and Mark Ferber on drums (Fred Hersch, Steve Coleman, Scott Colley, Drew Gress, Kenny Werner).
Allen knows how to pick sidemen, he's been one for numerous high-profile New York City soloists, including Dennis Irwin, Donny McCaslin, Chris Cheek, Mark Shim, Matt Wilson, Ben Street and Eric McPherson. As a leader, Allen fronts a trio every Monday night at Push, a NYC club. His busy performance schedule has been showcased at Birdland, CBGB's, The Knitting Factory, The 55 Bar, and countless other clubs. Untold Stories is good jazz, documenting at last this confident young quartet. After all, we can't all scout the Manhattan clubs for ourselves.
It says a lot about jazz appreciation in America (regarding listeners and labels alike) that significant NYC artists like Dave Allen find release only through a European record company. Americans miss out on much of their own best music; some say it's always been that way. We used to blame racism; now we blame fickle consumers, youth-oriented A&R, or greed-motivated corporate radio. Whatever the reasons, jazz fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to European preservationists. Jordi Pujol's Fresh Sound/New Talent Records is a forward-thinking firm which mines our great artists who have fallen through the cracks of major representation. In this case at least, Fresh Sound/New Talent even goes so far as to grant production credit to the artist.
Be that as it may, Fresh Sound/New Talent apparently does not spare any expense when it comes to recording quality. Nor do they skip the essential sweetening step like most "non-major" releases. Untold Stories was mastered by Emily Lazar at The Lodge. The proof is in the pudding, Untold Stories sounds great.
All nine songs on Untold Stories are Dave Allen originals, featuring complex yet memorable melodies and adventurous harmonies. Allen has developed a brilliant tone and deeply lyrical voicing revealed only in fully-matured guitarists. His personal jazz conception is an enviable combination of musical and technical mastery. Jim Macnie of The Village Voice wrote, "there’s a true sensuality to the guitarist’s sound". In addition to his musical interests, it would appear Allen has literary interests. This is evidenced by song titles culled from poetry and prose.
The opening track, "Momentum" features a loping bass intro by Carlo Dross and tenor-man Seamus Blake's bold, searching style fairly reminiscent of Coltrane's masterworks. The advanced level of interplay proves these guys are used to playing together. "In Some Human City" contains a complex series of neo-classical counter-melodies, each as interesting and memorable as the other. Mark Ferber plays the drums with a vigor that could accurately be described as soloing the whole time. Dross is heard bowing the bass in a duet with Allen on "Searching", subtly accented by Ferber's low-end drum rolls. Only if you're a guitarist can you fully appreciate the way Allen makes difficult techniques appear effortless. "Paradigm Shift" starts out with an upbeat, off-kilter bass/sax battle, which in turn breaks-down into highly sophisticated solos. The aptly titled "Spring Snow" paints a somewhat unexpected but emotionally affirming soundscape.
Even ballads like "Out of the Trap" possess a certain unresolved tension, like a flexed muscle or a weight suspended by a thread. Even in the stillness, it feels as if the whole thing could burst at any moment. "Uneasy" is a gorgeous composition wherein Allen plucks arpeggios over a bed of brushed percussion. Allen's sound is melodic, melancholic, and deeply rooted in the core aspects of jazz: blues and swing. His steadfast implied sense of time allows his sidemen an unusually free creative license.
The final chapter of Untold Stories is titled "Uneasy", and it goes out with a bang. This lively, syncopated swing set is the quartet's last chance to show-off. Allen's flashy fingerwork and DeRosa's lightening-fast walking lines keep pace with Ferber, each turning in heavily bop-infused solos.
Untold Stories is high-quality improvisational small-group jazz, strongly recommended for anyone curious in new talent.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.