I could remind all us present-day Jazz snazzies that there was a time when Cecil Taylor was just a gleam in his Dad's eye and Thelonious Monk was not yet the chasm-leaping phenom he became; well, I could, but Eric Allen will do a much better job than I with this CD. Yes, it has as many rear-view mirrors as a Vespa scooter but they are shined to a fare-thee-well with such cheer and precision and seamless jump-cutting that even if Xenakis' "Evryali' is your idea of a musical after-dinner mint you may well get as high over this as I did.
A Canadian, Mr. Allen leaps willy but not nilly through barrelhouse, stride, boogie-woogie, Tin Pan Alley and even on the opening of "Cepoy" comes tantalizingly close to a Gershwin moment.
The late Art Tatum would have loved this CD but if I were to tell him that somebody his dad's age had recorded it, he might have believed me; that's largely due to the down-and-dirty boogie of "Rocking Chair", the Little Rascals (pre-Alfalfa, thanks) feel of "Wislun Kids" or the bashin' good times essayed by the gospelly "Hallelujah Time" (an Oscar Peterson original). Makes me want to testify and I'm not even being sued.
This CD also reminds me of pianists I haven't heard or thought of in years, like Jerry Smith (the late lamented NYC station WNEW-AM used to use his "Truck Stop" for a news lead-in in the 1960s). The merry sense of glee throughout --think Chico at the big 88 in the Marx Brothers movies -- even in the more reflective bits, keeps it all from being a dusty history lesson. No easy feat since I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of the motifs here go back to the Civil War; such as those heard in the rollicking "Jump" or a fine reading of "Amazing Grace." In the latter a certain barrelhouse cut-up section might draw a raised eyebrow from the Rev. Elmer Gantry, but that's what the purpose of the Sinclair Lewis novel was, I recall: to tell us we should ignore him! The quiet minuet of "Blue Mountain" has a modern feel but a structure reminiscent of the sort of ditty one played in the parlor after Sunday dinner, and the closing "Hymn To Freedom," another Peterson original, nicely combines Petersonís own humorous sense of history with more gospelly extensions one might have heard on one of Duke Ellingtonís Sacred Concert recordings.
It's just my humble opinion, but if you have forgotten that the piano is also an instrument of social interaction - not that those days are gone, of course -
This will remind you. Thank you, Eric.
by Ken Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive
Copyright Jazz Now, April 2003 issue, all rights reserved