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Five New Views on Standards, By JD Allen, Tia Fuller, Thumbscrew, Peter Evans, and Gene Jackson

Bart Babinski
JD Allen, whose new album is 'Love Stone'

JD Allen, “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of tenor saxophonist JD Allen may well be power — the full-toned, heavy-tread intensity he can bring to any musical setting. But on his new album, Love Stone, he seeks out beauty in the most straightforward form, with tenderness and low-flickering calm.

Featuring Allen’s longtime rhythm team of bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, smartly augmented by Liberty Ellman on guitar, it’s an all-ballads affair, but one with plenty of swirling intrigue underfoot. Listen to this version of “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” a song first published in 1936, and you’re likely to notice Allen’s tip of the hat to Dexter Gordon, both in the smoke of his tone and the drawl of his phrasing, which remains rooted in melody. (Ellman carries himself with distinction too, in his comping and during a solo that begins about two-and-a-half minutes in.)

Love Stone is due out on Savant this Friday, and the JD Allen Trio will appear at Nublu on June 18. Allen will also be featured soon on WBGO’s Afternoon Jazz.

Thumbscrew, “Dance Cadaverous”

This past Friday the collective trio Thumbscrew — Michael Formanek on bass, Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar — simultaneously released a pair of albums on the Cuneiform label, designed to show two sides of the same coin. Titled Ours and Theirs, they respectively consist of new originals and reimagined covers, all in Thumbscrew’s try-anything, go-anywhere style. “Dance Cadaverous” is a Wayne Shorter waltz from the classic mid-‘60s album Speak No Evil, rendered here at a slower clip, and with a watery translucence. Halvorson carries the melody while Fujiwara defines a turbulent undertow, and Formanek bridges the shifting space in the middle. The pulsating focus of this group is one of a handful of reasons to anticipate its upcoming debut at The Village Vanguard, July 17 to 22. 

Cory Smythe & Peter Evans, “Weatherbird”

“Weather Bird” is a cornerstone of the jazz literature: an incandescent duet recorded by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines on Dec. 5, 1928. (It was also the name of the Village Voice column that Gary Giddins had for 30 years.)

What, then, are trumpeter Peter Evans and pianist Cory Smythe up to with the title track of their new album, Weatherbird? Commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble, to which both musicians belong, it’s a daring reanimation that allows the tune its pedestal but refuses to put it under glass. Evans has genuine feeling for Armstrong’s attack, and Smythe is doing more than gesturing in the direction of Hines. But there’s avant-garde texture and intention in this performance, which was recorded in 2015. It’s another reminder of the fearlessness that Armstrong exuded in his prime, the sense that any challenge was worth lunging for. Speaking of which, Smythe and Evans will perform an album-release show at the Jazz Gallery on Tuesday, and surely push even further.

Tia Fuller, “Soul Eyes”

Original tunes make up a good portion of Diamond Cut, the new album by saxophonist Tia Fuller. When she recently paid a visit to Afternoon Jazz, she played four tunes, including “In the Trenches” and “Queen Intuition.” But the album also includes a few jazz standards — one of which is Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes,” best known for a version by John Coltrane.


She has some heavy firepower on the track: bassist Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, both NEA Jazz Masters, along with guitarist Adam Rogers. Her solo, over Holland’s unshakeable bass line and DeJohnette’s burbling groove, suggests a high level of fluency being pushed ever so subtly toward less proven terrain.

Tia Fuller will appear on June 22 at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in Minneapolis, and on June 23 and 24 at South in Philadelphia. Diamond Cut is available from Mack Avenue.

Gene Jackson, “I Love You”

A versatile drummer familiar for his travels as a sideman — with Holland, Shorter and Herbie Hancock, among many others — Gene Jackson recently made what can only be called an overdue debut under his own name. This album, Power of Love, on Whirlwind Recordings, features the band he calls Trio NuYorx, with pianist Gabriel Guerrero and bassist Carlo De Rosa. Its program includes originals by all three musicians, covering a healthy range of style. But it opens with a version of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” that speaks in the dialect of the modern-jazz mainstream. And you’d have no clue from this track that Power of Love is a drummer-led album, even factoring in Jackson’s solo, which begins around 5:45.  

Power of Love is available at Whirlwind Recordings

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.