The Harry Allen Quartet Blue Skies

John Marks Records JMR 9

Playing Time: 66:58

Harry Allen - Tenor sax
John Bunch - Piano
Dennis Irwin - Bass
Duffy Jackson - Drums

Harry Allen - Blue Skies Cover The Harry Allen Quartet's Blue Skies is a recent recording of popular ballads. In addition to some wonderful standards, Allen includes originals Hummin' Along, Why Must I Go and Carolyn's Kitchen. While the mood of Allen's Quartet is relaxed and the music is easy-listening, this reviewer was left feeling distinctly lukewarm.

Harry Allen plays in the musical style of Stan Getz, imitating the master's warm and full tenor sound, however, he fails to capture the listener's attention using his own musical voice. As a musician, I listen to recordings of up-and-coming artists to hear new sounds and ideas. Allen is articulate with his musical ideas, yet, I was distracted easily. I realized he was merely imitating the voice of musicians rather than stating his musical ideas as an individual influenced by great artists. It is very important for musicians to hear and digest the sounds of the masters, but, only in an effort to develop an individual style and sound, not to give people more of what they have already heard.

Hummin' Along is one of the original compositions and a musical highlight. This up-tempo blues communicates real vibrant energy and gives the listener a welcome break from the slow, laid-back sound. This is the first time the Quartet shows its musical potential. Bass player Dennis Irwin and drummer Duffy Jackson begin a steadfast, driving pulse that remains throughout the whole chart. Pianist John Bunch offers an energetic twenty-four bar introduction that implies the sequential style of the melody and really prepares the listener for Allen's entry.

We are soon introduced to the next two Allen compositions, Why Must You Go and Carolyn's Kitchen. In all the original numbers, Allen begins the song by stating the melody and continues by playing the same melody in a slightly different way. This, demonstrating further use of the previously mentioned technique, sequential melody. Listening to Carolyn's Kitchen serves as a strong introduction to the standard, Blue Skies. Unfortunately, Why Must You Go is a ballad that pales against a selection of great songs such as I Didn't Know What Time It Was, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life, and How Insensitive.

The 20-bit recording was captured in the Church of the Holy Trinity, New York City. All of the tracks on this CD are live and unedited, except for track five which contains but one splice. In an effort to recreate live sound, the JMR team recorded the Harry Allen Quartet with two Cambridge C35 microphones and a Studer A80 analog tape recorder (30 i.p.s.). Sadly, I found the soundstage distant - it excluded me from being an intimate part of the performance. The sound is adequate if standing outside the church listening to the Quartet, unable to afford the price of admission! It appears as if the Quartet was lined up one behind the other, with John Bunch and Duffy Jackson at the extreme end of the hall. The sound on this release is not representative of the other JMRs I have heard.

If you like easy-listening music, the recording will not disappoint you. In his notes, John Marks suggests the listener use a sound pressure level meter to adjust the playback volume in order to "obtain a more realistic recreation of the original musical experience". My initial reaction to his direction was slightly different! Thus, I suggest that admirers of original jazz voices should look elsewhere.

Copyright©Steven Dubinsky, 1998