JD Allen

Love Stone

In the long-running debate over whether it’s necessary for instrumentalists to know the words to songs they play, tenorman JD Allen has thrown in with Lester Young. “A musician should know the lyrics of the songs he plays,” was Prez’s opinion, and in the liner notes to Love Stone, Allen agrees, if somewhat elliptically: “True confession: playing the melody while knowing the lyrics is like drinking champagne alone and laughing at yourself all night long.”

There’s a lot of champagne being sipped here, as both Allen and guitarist Liberty Ellman keep the melodic content at the heart of these performances. That’s not to say that improvisation gets short shrift—nobody’s going to mistake this album for easy listening—only that its execution intrinsically is linked to the melodic ideas of the song being performed. And it ought to be noted that this is hardly the standard set of Great American Songs, as Allen’s choices range from the well-worn to such relative oddities as the Appalachian ballad “Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies” and the Borodin-derived “Stranger In Paradise.”

But the album’s deepest pleasures stem from the luxuriant warmth of Allen’s horn, not necessarily the songs selected for inclusion. It isn’t just that his phrasing is beautifully articulated, ensuring that every pause, emphasis and subtle shading carries the weight of the words he’s mentally intoning; his solos, too, take on a sense of speech, as if they somehow were continuing the lyricist’s train of thought. As such, the mood of the album is utterly enveloping, conjuring enough emotional intensity to leave the listener hanging on every note (or word).