Harry Allen

Plays Ellington Songs

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AllMusic Review by

Allen's tenor sax sound is perfectly suited for the music of Duke Ellington. His literate, traditional approach and occasionally Stan Getz-ian breathy tones go to the heart of Duke's melodic and harmonic concepts. Pianist Bill Charlap is excellent through and through, while bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington are dutiful in attending to their swing. Several of these tracks are read pretty straight, as the ballad "Lush Life," the easy swinger "Just Squeeze Me," the Afro-Cuban to bop "Caravan," and the air-filled "Sophisticated Lady." But the band changes up the rest. At the least extreme, "Mood Indigo" is easy swing as opposed to balladic; "Take the A Train" is slowed way down with Allen and Charlap only, while the pianist plays the melody while Allen's tenor counter-swipes licks on "C Jam Blues." More adapted is the slow tick-tock to bossa of the usual wall-melting ballad "Solitude," and a low-down, lugubrious bluesy swing with Charlap loading up on the intro and melody of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," with Allen's stacatto stopped accents. At their most energetic, the quartet charges hard and trade eights during the up-tempo workout "Cotton Tail," whereas Allen and bassist Washington in duet need no other instrumental accoutrements in order to rhythmically fire up "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing." This is most likely Allen's best batch yet, for he is a great interpreter rather than innovator. Duke did all the inventing necessary here, and this true collective quartet is hard to top. Recommended.

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