Real And Imagined, the second CD for New York based Jazz Guitarist Dave Allen, is a tour de force of composition and technical mastery that appears to know no bounds. As a Guitarist, composer and improviser, Allen follows, and more importantly, trusts his muse to seek out areas that feed off his “other life” inspirations like art, cinema and poetry. These influences shape the foundation of Allen’s playing and writing, culminating in a performance that focuses not only on the technical merits of Allen’s playing but the emotional as well.
Real And Imagined features all the elements that make Allen an imposing Guitarist and a musician worth getting to know. The tune “Mantra” conveys this impression quite well as he demonstrates a commitment to the art of improvisation and songwriting. His compositions are thoughtful and sometimes complex creations that feature an intermingling of harmonic and melodic design reminding me at times of Pat Metheny’s current trio work and his past associations with saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Dave Sanchez. “Intimate Distance” is just such a tune, at least to my ears, as the melodic content and writing share a slight similarity in sound and feel to Metheny’s musical sensibilities.
Each of the nine tracks on Real And Imagined showcase Allen’s stream of consciousness improvisational skills which are impressively formidable, reacting more to the overall harmonic balance of a given tune than the usual “paint by numbers” chord/scale parallel. His lines and chord work are swift and intricate, full of twists and turns cut from a modern cloth that has more to do with Metheny and Rosenwinkle than Burrell or Pass, but it’s obvious that Allen’s knowledge of the tradition goes deep. And like all those who seek a singular voice on their instrument, Allen doesn’t let his influences get in the way of his search for his own expression.
His compositions also reveal a progressive approach via the use of modern harmonic and melodic devices that appear to be crafted from a reflective fashion more to do with conveying emotion than hammering out a melody to fit a progression. The moody “Musing” is a prime example of this, as the continual pulse of a single note floats in and out of the harmonic soundscape alongside diminutive chord voicings and melodic counterpoint in an almost classical manner. Saxophone wunderkind Seamus Blake lends a haunting take on this tune with a breathy sound that captures the mood nicely. Bassist Drew Gress also adds a thoughtful solo with Drummer Mark Ferber providing dramatic elements that complete the tune. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that “Musing” comes directly from Allen’s love of cinema as it could be the musical backdrop for any dramatic film on the scene today.
The same could be said for the “Playground (Part 1)”. A slow and minimalist tune at best featuring a recurring two note pattern punctuated by a third note at times with Gress providing a sparse and somber melody. Total time of the tune 1:28. I’m wondering when we will get to hear Part 2?
Of course, Allen is not all just about the melancholy, as the majority of the tunes demonstrate. “Slipping Glimpser”, “Always Beginning”, “Mantra”, “Intimate Distance”, “Perpetuum Mobile”, “Untold Story” and the trippy title tack all feature the technical and expressive shrewdness that each player has to offer, with Allen and Blake smoking on nearly every tune. Each of these artists can shred with the best of them, and they do so while being very musical. This is where the technical is overshadowed by the emotional. “Perpetuum Mobile” for example, has a virtuous interplay of ideas shared between Allen and Blake, while “Untold Story” has them both soloing simultaneously without getting in each others way. In this regard, Allen has found a musical equal in Blake in the same way as did Jim Hall with Sonny Rollins or Kurt Rosenwinkle with Mark Turner.
As mentioned, alongside Allen and Blake are Jazz’s version of the Dynamic Duo: Mark Ferber and Drew Gress. These exceptional players, along with Blake, are held in the highest regard throughout the contemporary Jazz community and are also featured prominently on Allen’s first CD release, Untold Stories. Their contributions to Real and Imagined are what any leader hopes for: plenty of talent, big ears, communicative skills and an envious ability to translate notes on manuscript paper to a gratifying musical end for both the composer and listener. What more could you ask for?
Real and Imagined is an album I would highly recommend to anyone searching for music that is both high brow and emotionally transparent. Dave Allen has succeeded in creating music that affects the heart as well as the mind and I look forward to hearing what’s next on Dave Allen’s musical horizon, both Real and Imagined! Enjoy!