Hour 3: Tenor Sax Trios: JD Allen, Charles Owens, Mark Turner, Joshua Redman

Charles Owens

Since Sonny Rollins’ landmark recordings in 1957 and 1958 (Way Out West, A Night at the Village Vanguard, Freedom Suite), tenor sax plus bass and drums has been an attractive format for many tenor players. As Michael J. West wrote in Jazz Times “…when jazz artists … began experimenting with chordless ensembles in the 1950s, the sax trio became a daring extension of those experiments, and eventually a staple of small-group jazz. The lack of a piano or any other chordal instrument gives the band’s sound an openness, a devil-may-care freedom (even outside of free jazz) that suggests anything can happen at any moment.” Several current tenor players keep returning to this format as a preferred ensemble form. In this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!, tenor trios of JD Allen, Charles Owens and Mark Turner.

JD Allen Trio – JD Allen, Gregg August, Rudy Royston
JD Allen has alternated between Trio and Quartet outings for the past two decades, delivering a consistently strong set of recordings. In AllAboutJazz, Dan Bilawski writes, “Allen’s statement that ‘wasting notes is a waste of time,’ isn’t mere lip service. The saxophonist self-edits like few others and what’s left is the cream on the top.” With seven terrific trio discs to choose from, selecting a favorite is impossible, but three rise to the top for this listener. We’ll hear a very churchy Victory!, the title tune from that 2011 disc and two blues – Sonny Boy from 2015’s Graffiti and Tell The Truth, Shame the Devil from 2016’s Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues. For these three discs, the trio is JD Allen on tenor, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums.

Victory! JD Allen Trio.
(JD Allen-ts, Gregg August-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Victory! Sunnyside Communications. 2011.
Sonny Boy. JD Allen Trio.
(JD Allen-ts, Gregg August-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Graffiti. Savant. 2015
Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil. JD Allen Trio.
(JD Allen-ts, Gregg August-b, Rudy Royston-d). From Americana: Musings on Jazz and Blues. Savant. 2016

Charles Owens Trio – Charles Owens, Andrew Randazzo, Devonne Harris
Charles Owens, a wildly inventive tenor player, returns to the tenor – bass – drums format regularly, with bassist Andrew Randazzo and drummer Devonne Harris rounding out his preferred trio. On Billy Strayhorn’s UMMG, Henry Mancini’s Moon River and Hoagy Charmichael’s Stardust, Owens introduces each tune with a stirring reading of the essence of the composition, before laying out the melody as the foundation for improvisation. After a decade of collaboration on disc and in performance, the trio-mates form a musical unit of great power and subtlety.

UMMG. Charles Owens Trio
(Charles Owens-ts, Andrew Randazzo-b, Devonne Harris-d). From A Day With Us. Jellowstone Records. 2015.
Moon River. Charles Owens Trio
(Charles Owens-ts, Andrew Randazzo-b, Devonne Harris-d). From A Wealth In Common. 32 Bar Records. 2013.
Stardust. Charles Owens Trio
(Charles Owens-ts, Andrew Randazzo-b, Devonne Harris-d). From Three & Thirteen. Ropeadope Records. 2019.

Fly – Mark Turner, Larry Genadier, Jeff Ballard
Mark Turner has recorded many times over the past twenty years with both bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. Two of his strongest recordings are with these players as a trio under the name Fly. In AllAbout Jazz, Jerry D’Souza wrote of the tune CJ from 2011’s Sky & Country “[The tune] stands up to be noticed as Turner stirs the embers of warmth on the tenor. His phrasing is articulate and deliberate, the steady progress of one who knows the road to take. He lets a light air of breathiness wisp into his playing as Grenadier plays a walking line and Ballard spaces time on the cymbals.”

CJ. Fly.
(Mark Turner-ts, Larry Grenardier-b, Jeff Ballard-d). From Sky & Country. ECM. 2009
Benj. Fly.
(Mark Turner-ts, Larry Grenardier-b, Jeff Ballard-d). From The Year of the Snake. ECM. 2011

JD Allen, Charles Owens and Mark Turner are tenor masters who flourish in the tenor – bass – drums format, feeding off the harmonic freedom and openness of the format.

West, Michael J. (2019, April 26 updated). JazzTimes 10: Great Saxophone Trio Albums. Jazz Times. https://jazztimes.com/features/lists/10-great-saxophone-trio-albums/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2011, May 12). J.D. Allen: Victory! AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/victory-jd-allen-sunnyside-records-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Roggero, Vincenzo (2015, December 24). JD Allen: Graffiti. AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/graffiti-jd-allen-savant-records-review-by-vincenzo-roggero.php

Matzner, Franz A. (2016, July 25). JD Allen: Americana. AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/americana-jd-allen-savant-records-review-by-franz-a-matzner.php

Orthmann, David A. (2015, November 17). Charles Owens Trio: A Day With Us. AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/a-day-with-us-by-david-a-orthmann.php

D’Souza, Jerry. (2009, May 19). Fly: Sky & Country. AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/sky-and-country-fly-ecm-records-review-by-jerry-dsouza.php

Kelman, John. (2012, June 6). Fly: Year Of The Snake. AllAboutJazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/fly-year-of-the-snake-by-john-kelman.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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