I Am I Am (Sunnyside Records)

JD Allen

Released April 22, 2008

Jazzwise Top 10 Releases of 2008






Hailed by the New York Times as “a tenor saxophonist with an enigmatic, elegant and hard-driving style,” JD Allen is a bright rising light on today’s international jazz scene. His unique and compelling voice on the instrument – the result of a patient and painstaking confrontation with the fundamentals of the art – has recently earned Allen a blaze of critical attention signaling his ascension to the upper ranks of the contemporary jazz world.
Originally from Detroit, Allen’s apprenticeship, anchored by his lengthy tenure with Betty Carter, occurred largely in New York, where he worked with legends Lester Bowie, George Cables, Ron Carter, Louis Hayes, Frank Foster Big Band, Winard Harper, Butch Morris, David Murray, Wallace Roney. He added his voice to that of his contemporaries as well; Cindy Blackman, Eric Revis, Orrin Evans, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dave Douglas, Jeremy Pelt, Gerald Cleaver and Nigel Kennedy continue to call upon him to augment their musical visions.
JD’s debut album, In Search Of… (Red Records, 1999), won him the Best New Artist award in Italy, and reviewers praised him for his compositions and conceptual boldness. 
His second release, Pharoah’s Children (Criss Cross, 2002), again won him accolades for its thoughtfulness, maturity, and adventurousness. One of Jazziz Magazine’s Critics Picks Top 10 Albums of the Year, the album was widely praised in the U.S. and Europe. 
In 2008 Allen began an association with Sunnyside Records, which released I AM – I AM featuring Gregg August (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) and garnered rave reviews from the New York Times (Ben Ratliff’s Playlist), Time Out NY (music cover), All About Jazz, Jazzman, Jazz Wise and DownBeat. That year Allen was awarded Rising Star Tenor Saxophone in the 56th Annual DownBeat Critics Poll and appeared on NPR’s Jazz Perspectives, WNYC’s Soundcheck and WKCR’s Musician’s Show.

Track Listing:

1. I Am I Am (J.D. Allen) 3:36

2. The North Star (J.D. Allen) 3:50

3. Hajile (J.D. Allen) 3:50

4. Titus (J.D. Allen) 5:06

5. Louisada (J.D. Allen) 3:38

6. Id (J.D. Allen) 2:59

7. The Cross & The Crescent Sickle (J.D. Allen) 3:31

8. Othello (J.D. Allen) 4:48

9. Ezekiel (J.D. Allen) 5:19

10. Pagan (J.D. Allen) 8:22


JD Allen: tenor saxophone
Gregg August: drums
Rudy Royston: acoustic bass

Producer: Richard Knight

Recorded and Mixed by Dan Fleisher

Mastered by Katsuhiko Naito

Artwork: Rebecca Meek


JD Allen has recently become the tenor of choice for many two-horn groups in New York (including those of trumpeters Jeremy Pelt and David Weiss). But here, on his Sunnyside debut, he’s out on his own sans keyboards with just bass and drums. It’s worth pointing out that August is the talented bassist whose two albums as leader, both with Myron Walden in the line-up, we’ve been urging readers to check out.

He makes a key contribution throughout to the success of this CD. Royston, a new name to me, is a remarkable player. To these ears, he is most reminiscent of the very underrated Cindy Blackman, in whose band JD plays (and records) whenever Cindy’s not working with Lenny Kravitz. In a way, he is to JD what Elvin was to Coltrane.  High praise indeed, but richly deserved. 
As for JD himself, 35 and Detroit-born, he has developed into a striking soloist and composer, whose themes here are short and to the point, deceptively simple and all with melodies that he keeps referring back to and which you’ll find lodge in your brain. He’s an extremely spiritual player, never afraid to leave space in his solos. There’s often an air of preaching at morning prayer.  It’s not gospel-orientated, but more Middle-Eastern in its concept. He’s a very moving player, with greater depth for me than, say, the Chris Potter school. The opening unaccompanied title track statement really sets out JD’s stall, showing off his fine full tone. 
The other nine songs include a couple of Latin-tinged tunes and a couple in 3/4. The most memorable of the lot for this reviewer is the outstanding ‘Othello’ with its haunting, minor Moorish melody. This deserves to become a standard. JD says he was initially inspired by John Gilmore, Rollins and then Branford Marsalis. With more work like I Am I Am, he’ll soon have his own following among young tenors everywhere. An exceptional album. 

Tony Hall (Jazzwise)