JD Allen is one hell of a tenor saxophonist, with over a dozen recordings as a leader and plenty of guest spots too – working with the likes of Cindy Blackman, Orrin Evans and Lisa Hilton (among others). But Queen City is his first solo saxophone albums.
His great hero is Sonny Rollins, so it feels like a solo saxophone record would always be on the cards. But, as with many recent releases where the artist performs under some restriction, we have the pandemic and lockdown conditions to thank or blame. In this case it’s a resounding debt of gratitude. The solo sax album isn’t easy to pull off but Allen’s beautiful, wafting tone fills this record through nine originals and four depression-era covers/standards.
His mellifluous waft is there (Nyla’s Sky) but there are also tracks where the lines don’t so much repeat as continually bump into one another (Mother).
The cover versions are split in pairs to bookend the album. We have Three Little Words rolling into the Carter Family staple, Wildwood Flower at the head of the record. And to close Just A Gigolo runs into These Foolish Things.
You’ll recognise these well known pieces, but Allen likes to hide the melody, taking an adventurous stroll down the path to find them himself.
It’s a cry for help at times, it’s an expression of the beauty of music – the salvation, the hope and heart of creativity in trying times. And it’s a calm and thoughtful voice to have in the background of your day (or night). Like catching up with a friend, his saxophone will natter in your ear lovingly, and filled only with love in fact.
There’s such special joy in hearing this. It’s like a midnight mural from a lone graffiti artist. The image, too, is evoked of Sonny Rollins out on the bridge playing for no one and everyone as he re-perfected his tone and heart and feel. You know there’ll be more band work from Allen after this reprieve, this remove, this reappraisal. But it’s more than just ‘an exercise’, the playing here is wonderful throughout.