|Brandon Allen and Arnie Somogyi at Herts Jazz in 2014
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
Brandon Allen Quartet
(Karamel N22, 29 March 2018. Review by Brian Blain)
We are so blessed with terrific tenor players in London, from the likes of Ed Jones and Art Themen at one end of the spectrum to Karen Sharp and Robert Fowler at the other, with so many others in between. Even so it was good to welcome Brandon Allen back from Australia to last Thursday’s show at drummer Stu Butterfield’s weekly jazz spot at the Karamel Club in Wood Green, for he is a massive talent and a major voice on the scene.
The Karamel is quite a large room and there was quite a healthy crowd, but right from the word go, a stretching-the-fingers warm-up on the familiar Where or When, pianist Tim Lapthorn, bassist Arnie Somogyi and a relatively new face, Lloyd Haines, on drums , produced a perfect platform – that feeling of being right on it – for Allen’s big warm sound, so reminiscent of Dexter Gordon, to grab everyone by the ears and draw them in without any need to go through the PA system. Not that this was any kind of nostalgia feast, for so much of the evening’s material was original themes written by the band which didn’t frighten the horses at all. Maybe times are slowly changing, or in this case the tunes were melodic and engaging. I was particularly taken with Return to Life, a composition of Lapthorn’s, with a spare harmonic underlay and, similarly, other material, written by Allen himself, moved away from the kind of bebop language that you might have expected from someone whose hero is the greatGene Ammons.
Nevertheless, towards the end of the evening, a version of But Beautiful which featured Brandon’s gruff but romantic voice to perfection seemed to me redolent of a whole era, as classic an example of the art of ballad playing as you are likely to hear anywhere. All three of the established names were absolute masters of their craft, but to come across a completely new name, Lloyd Haines, with his beautifully loose, flowing time and great sensitivity to everything going on all around him, was an extra bonus on a deeply satisfying evening.