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Review: Quentin Collins/Brandon Allen Quartet

Quentin Collins/Brandon Allen Quartet
(Ray’s Jazz Cafe at Foyle’s, 28th March 2011, Review by Chris Parker

In an interview in April 2007 to mark the release of his debut album, If Not Now, Then When?, trumpeter Quentin Collins (above) was already thinking of a follow-up recording which, he hoped, would be ‘more melodic’, with fewer ‘over-complicated chord sequences’ than his first Sunlightsquare CD. To achieve this aim, he could not have chosen a more suitable frontline partner than Australian tenor player Brandon Allen. In a jazz world that seems to be increasingly dominated by music-school graduates determined to explore the tricksiest chord sequences they can think up, Collins and Allen are something of a bracing tonic, their approach harking back to the classic jazz of the 1950s and 1960s epitomised by the output of the Blue Note label, but with its roots in bebop, Basie and Ellington.

In that same interview, indeed, Collins, after citing Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard as important influences (‘powerful, great music’), said unequivocally: ‘I’m basically an Ellington disciple and love bebop. I think the history’s very important, so I always listen to old records, right back to the 1930s.’

Given these predilections, it was no surprise to find the Collins/Allen quartet (completed by organist Ross Stanley and drummer Enzo Zirilli) delivering over an hour of unfussy but melodic hard bop, delivered with grace, but infused with zip and bristling with bustling energy. They began proceedings with the title-track of their new album, What’s It Gonna Be? (Collins appearing to have a penchant for the interrogative in his titles), on which both Collins’s rattling vigour and flaring brilliance and Allen’s driving power (Tubby Hayes seems to be the model most frequently mentioned in accounts of his playing, and with good reason) were given free rein. The rest of the set, particularly a Zirilli take on ‘Tea for Two’ entitled ‘Teeth for Tooth’ (don’t ask), was similarly vital and unpretentious. All four participants -plus the impressive trombonist Trevor Mires who made a guest appearance – were striking sparks off each other, both in their swiftly traded solos and in their longer excursions over the accommodating sequences provided for them by Collins and Allen’s bright, accessible themes.

A ballad, ‘Dark Shadows’, brought out Allen’s more contemplative side, his solo a little gem imbued with bruised tenderness, but overall, this was an irresistibly lively, even sassy performance, and a great showcase (as it was intended to be, of course) for the band’s forthcoming album.

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