Strongly inspired by his childhood exposure – via his father Maurice, a big band drummer – to Duke Ellington’s tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Harry Allen has become one of the most treasured and prolific tenor men of his generation, working with everyone from Tony Bennett an Sheryl Crow to Dori Caymmi and John Pizzarelli, among hundreds of others, while recording 70+ albums as a leader since the late 80s.
While he was once called “the Frank Sinatra of the tenor saxophone: a master interpreter of standards,” the musical aesthetic and creative drive he brings to his leadership of the Harry Allen Orchestra’s alternately fun, lighthearted and swinging and heartfelt and softly sensitive album With Roses” is very with different.
It’s wholly comprised of original pieces (dare we say, potential modern standards?) composed by Roger Frankham with clever wordplay-filled lyrics by Bruce Brown, Roger Schore and Mark Winkler and sung with stylish wit, sass and soul by NYC based vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan. Complementing the orchestra’s always hoppin’ core of Allen (tenor sax), John DiMartino (piano) and Mike Karn (bass) are two distinct brass and drum sections that reflect Allen’s vibrant eclectic vision for the project: a four piece trumpet/sax/trombone driven jazz ensemble and a five-piece classical counterpart featuring two flutes, two clarinets and a bass clarinet.
While there are touches of romantic melancholy on “Here in Rome” and the title track (featuring Winkler’s usual colorful poetic flair), other tunes like “It All Catches Up With You in the End,” the crafty Roman Holiday influenced “Diamonds” and the lone instrumental, the sensual bossa “That’s When the Fun Starts,” capture the mostly upbeat, optimistic vibe of the collection. Although Allen’s recording career has enjoyed many creative twists and turns, here’s hoping this newfangled orchestra isn’t just a one-time affair.