Toys/Die Dreaming (Savant Records

JD Allen

Released August 7, 2020

2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll Top 20 Best New Album




Of JD Allen, Giovanni Russonello in The New York Times said, “Mr. Allen has become one of today’s most exciting tenor saxophonists not by trying to spotlight his own virtuosity… but by defining a new way of playing in a group.” Allen’s current release, “Toys/Die Dreaming,” is his 14th as a leader and builds on his already rich recorded legacy. His compositions exhibit his philosophy of providing short melodies as the basis of both solo and group improvisation; “Get in and get out,” as Allen likes to say. This gives his music a remarkable ever-transforming feel, as if the improvisation was actually part of the composition itself. To bring his music to life, Allen requires players of the utmost talent and creativity and he has certainly found them in bassist, Ian Kenselaar and drummer, Nic Cacioppo. “I found the bad boys of this generation, as far as I’m concerned,” says Allen, “guys who are not afraid to dip their toe in the avant-garde a little bit, and then turn around and play the tradition.” But tradition to Allen is a development, an unending arc of creativity which begins at the dawn of jazz and to which he is the latest contributor to the music’s evolution.

Track Listing:

1. You’re My Thrill (Sidney Clare / Jay Gorney) 09:32

2. The G Thing (J.D. Allen) 06:41

3. Die Dreaming (J.D. Allen) 05:57

4. Red Label (Peter Lin) 06:29

5. Toys (J.D. Allen) 04:15

6. I Should Care (Sammy Cahn / Stordahl / Paul Weston) 05:09

7. Elegua (The Trickster) (J.D. Allen) 06:59


JD Allen: tenor saxophone

Ian Kenselaar: bass

Nic Cacioppo: drums

Recorded January 2, 2020, at Samurai Hotel Recording Studio, Astoria, NY

Produced by JD Allen

Executive Producer: Barney Fields

Engineered, Mixed and Mastered by Mike Marciano

Assistant Engineer: Max Ross


By mashing up the names of two individualistic tunes, tenorist JD Allen arrived at the title of his new album, Toys/Die Dreaming. The first, “Toys,” smolders as a freely melodic rumination, with Allen feeling out impressionistic lines alongside bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Nic Cacioppo. The second, “Die Dreaming,” pulsates with rhythmic insistence. So, what’s he getting at with the title? The vexing question leads to interesting observations about the bandleader’s creative use of harmonic understatement and melodic assertion. Both tracks, different as they are, exemplify the advanced form of musical play that Allen expresses so confidently through his austere compositions. Given the excitement that breaks through its serious veneer, however, it’s easy to conclude that the title implies a happy—rather than moribund—demise. Whatever the metaphoric meaning, the recording rings with intention. On “The G Thing,” he uses a dulcet rubato phrase as a launching pad for its escalating, swinging exposition. But on the album’s three covers, Allen hews closer to convention, sinking deep into a salty blues on “Red Label,” stretching into mourning on “I Should Care” and extracting the odd intervallic melody from “You’re My Thrill” with cunning precision before setting off on a thoughtful improvisation. He’s dreaming, still.

Suzanne Lorge (DownBeat)