The Matador and the Bull
Tenor saxophonist JD Allen has maintained a working relationship with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston through four CDs now — three on Sunnyside and this, their debut for Savant — all of which are unique but determinedly of a piece. Their most immediately notable characteristic is Allen’s compositions, which are extremely short by jazz standards. The longest track on this CD is “Vuela (The Whisperer),” at 4:45; the shortest is “Muleta,” which clocks in at a crisp 1:55. Each expresses a single, potent melodic idea, which is extrapolated for a minute or two before the song winds down and the group moves on. The effect is like listening to a Ramones album; each track works on its own, but they feel like movements within a larger whole.
The Matador and the Bull, on which track titles mostly relate to bullfighting, is possibly even more seamless than its predecessors, but individual moments still leap out: the deep bass drone from August that opens “Cathedral,” the New Orleans-like fervor of Allen’s soloing on “Paseillo,” Royston’s fierce swing on “Ring Shout!”
Allen’s tone and voice on the saxophone are deeply rooted in tradition. He sounds like an amalgam of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, circa 1964, with the latter man’s intellectual dryness tempering the former’s fervor. August and Royston are almost symbiotically attuned to each other, the bassist creating constantly changing countermelodies that complement and bolster the saxophone lines as Royston dices the beat into fractions, his drum sound all thunder and clatter, with the cymbals kept mercifully soft. This is intensely focused and introspective music, but it’s also wildly joyful at times. On the whole, The Matador and the Bull is one of 2012’s best albums. —Phil Freeman