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JD Allen's Love Stone is a truly delightful experience

It isn’t often that an artist presents a piece of work that has a quiet introspection, combined with fantastic improvisation. It’s even rarer when that artist puts out an entire album of ballads. With his newest offering, Love Stone, saxophonist JD Allen does exactly this. Balancing intricate improvisation and contemplative melancholy, Allen’s Love Stone is truly a delightful experience.

There are many stand-out cuts on the recording, but for my money “You’re My Thrill,” “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You),” and “Put on a Happy Face” are truly remarkable. There is a beauty that carries through “You’re My Thrill,” from the first note all the way through to the end; “Put On a Happy Face” has, on a cursory level, a melancholic thread weaving throughout, but upon multiple listens, there is an elegiac joy underscoring the piece giving a strange sense of comfort. However, it is Allen’s interpretation of the Johnny Hodges number “Someday (You’ll Want Me to Want You)” that make this cut the best track on the disc.

Allen is joined by a rhythm section comprised of Liberty Ellman on guitar, Gregg August on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. These wonderful musicians help highlight Allen’s playing, lifting his horn, and evoking some of the quieter moments of an old Dexter Gordon Blue Note session. Ellman’s guitar work is absolutely mesmerizing in the areas where he is allowed to solo, specifically on the number “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” and the interplay in the phrasing between Ellman and Allen on the lead-off track “Stranger In Paradise” is truly exceptional.

For any artist who undertakes a project of ballads, the challenge lies in not making the album pacing drag. With 9 mid-to-down-tempo cuts, Allen faced this challenge head-on. While there are a few moments toward the middle where the album does seem to lull, the album is in no way mired in poor pacing. Allen and company propel the music forward, treating the listener to a beautiful collection that finishes strong.

JD Allen has done a truly extraordinary job arranging an album that is full of beautiful moments, and masterful interpretations of some standards and some lesser-known numbers. Love Stone is a tender display from a dynamic performer, and is perfect for a quiet evening in. If Allen’s intent was to highlight the beauty he feels in his art, he has certainly succeeded.

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