Last year we touched on a solid release by Steve Allee, Colours, where the seasoned Indianapolis-based pianist found delight in turning from crossover jazz to honest-to-goodness straight trio jazz. Allee must have really enjoyed making that record, because here we are less than a year later chatting up another Steve Allee Trio release, called Dragonfly.
As in Colours, Allee's rhythm section remains Bill Moring on bass and Tim Horner on drums, and once again, Allee employs a smart blend of original compositions and covers that he reharmonizes into his own style. The one tweak in his approach this time around is the temporary expansion of his trio to include a sax player on three tracks. Nonetheless, Allee wisely doesn't tinker with the good vibe he started on the prior album (with one exception that I'll get to in a minute).
The proceedings get off to a spirited start with the Cuban-flavored "Bus To Belmopan." Horner does such a great job playing Latin percussion on his drums that I was fooled into thinking there was a separate percussionist on this song. Rich Perry furnishes some soulful sax work before Allee launches into a powerful, sweeping solo that's long on chops without being too showy about it. It sets the right tone for the the album as a whole.
"Dragonfly," the song, is another demonstration of both Allee's composing and instrumental prowess. It's got an almost classical repeating pattern of descending notes; an eight-note rhythmic lilt that is a familiar trait of the Indianapolis jazz greats who've come before Allee (Erroll Grandy, Montgomery Brothers, J.J. Johnson, Melvyn Rhyne, etc.). So busy and yet so catchy, the title cut is hard to get out of my head.
"Somewhere" is the most solemn number in this batch of songs, and Allee gives this Leonard Bernstein song from "West Side Story" a minimal but affecting touch. "Yummy" changes the pace with a funky bluesy number that recalls Horace Silver's and Lee Morgan's boogaloos of the sixties. Perry once again contributes sax.
"Morning Glory" is a delicate number with a vaguely bossa nova rhythm. Allee plays over that well-constructed vamp superbly during his solo turn, as does Moring with his brief bass solo.
"X & Y," the title song from the British rock band Coldplay's American breakthrough album, is a gently waltzing ballad as interpreted here by the trio. It's another example of Allee recognizing the jazz possibilities of a composition written for another genre.