From The Indianapolis Star
Sunday, September 20, 1998
Allee's score for 'New York' film evokes
small-group jazz of the Eisenhower era
By Jay Harvey
The rear-view mirrors on the jazz sport-utility vehicle get a lot of looks these days, as the great landscape that lies behind undergoes continual reinterpretation.
Steve Allee is among many musicians who focus on the road ahead, even if some listeners may occasionally disagree with his choice of direction. Undeniably, he has long been among the brighter features of the Indianapolis jazz scene, and his new disc, Music from the film 'New York in the Fities' (****) gives him a totally legitimate excuse to polish and adjust those mirrors.
New York in the Fifties is a film version of Dan Wakefield's memoir of the same title. Before his famous drying-out-for-good, followed by a much-examined spiritual renewal, the' Indianapolis-born author was hanging out and boozing it up while trying to make it as a writer in Manhattan. Gothamphiles are fond of identifying the 1950s as the city's last really good decade, and Wakefield is a lyrical memoirist.
For his part, Allee gets to complete the triangle of writer, subject and composer with an original score that evokes the heady days of small-group jazz after the bop revolution had been accepted and was busy consolidating its gains.
There are 11 tunes here, stretching out over 70 minutes, with lots of room for idiomatic solos and an ample showcase for the tight, glowing ensemble sound.
Fresh 'hard bop sound
Allee's music is especially good at reflecting the freshness of the blues-bebop amalgam called 'hard bop" as an unpolitical but trenchant counterweight to the fabled blandness of the Eisenhower years. And the band he has with him is so good that the cultural objects in the mirror are indeed closer than they appear. There are the Gardner brothers - trombonist Vincent and trumpeter Derrick - presenting arms in the front line along with former Indianapolis saxophonist Rob Dixon.
With the composer/bandleader holding down the piano chair, the rhythm section Is completed superblv bv bassist Jim Anderson and drummer Jakubu Griffin.
They play this catchy but ungimmicky music with composure and verve. No matter how high a plateau individual solos sometimes ascend to, the level of the whole band always suits the topography.
Allee Is offering the disc for sale through his Internet address, steveallee.com. It may also be ordered by calling (800) BUY-THIS, or purchased at Karma Records and Borders Books & Music.
From The Indianapolis Jazz Times
Newsletter of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation
Steve Allee raises the bar again with
"New York in the Fifties" Soundtrack
By Mark Harris
From the first frenetic flourishes of pianist Steve Allee's newest CD, New York in the Fifties, the listener is instantly taken to that exact time and place. The documentary film's sound-track is a solid, stand alone exploration of the music of the time, unlike so many well-crafted scores that must be heard with the images for which they were written to be fully appreciated. You may be asking yourself "how did an Indiana pianist end up writing the music for a documentary called "New York in the Fifties" until you remember that it was Hoosier author Dan Wakefield who wrote the book by the same name. The book is scheduled for a January 1999 reissue to correspond with the release of the film and CD.
Allee has enlisted some first-rate talent to explore some of the jazz that was spawned in New York City. The city is well represented by Vincent and Derrick Gardner and Rob Dixon; the horn section of the New York based group, The Jazz Prophets, which has
had several appearances at Indy's Jazz Kitchen. Derrick and Rob not only
add their playing skills to this project, but also are responsible for penning three of the eleven original gems on this CD. Gardner on 'I'm Testifyin' and 'Big Beat'and Dixon on 'Allusions' show a maturity that would be expected of musicians who played the village during its heyday. Also adding to this escape from modern times are Jim Anderson on bass and Jakubu Griffin who both not only build a solid foundation to support the sounds, but can swing like a suspension bridge in a gale-force wind when needed.
The opening cut is 'Theme from New York in the Fifties'which after a few chords to set the tone, goes into a melody of horn chords that are reminiscent of Bernstein's 'On The Town' or 'West Side Story'. Allee then lets his fingers glide over a wonder-fully up-tempo solo before a few punchy accents pass the melody over to Dixon. The Village Masters is a
tune that gently rocks in the "cool jazz" style and features some wonderful unison playing before Vincent Gardner takes a ride on trombone. Allee follows with solid technique and leads the group back into the opening chorus. Art's Groove is, of course, an upbeat tribute to Mr. Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Jakubu Griffin is swinging hard on the set, and the
horns are once again on the mark, with Derrick Gardner showing his chops on trumpet. Dixon follows with a cool tenor that is like a warm fire to Gardner's sharp, icy tone. It's moments where these sounds meet to give this disc its depth along with strong ensemble players who can also solo. Jim Anderson finally gets a few measures alone to set the mood and pace of Gardner's I'm Testifyin'. Anderson's walking bass line is the key to this swing, though well planned, well-played solos don't hurt. Seventh Avenue South can best be described as laid back and cool. Muted trumpet leads to bluesy piano to a concise, sharp group.
Big Beat is another of Derrick Gardner's compositions. The opening of this piece is deceptively lush, but soon lives up to its name with the Gardners showing their New York Style. Allee's 'That Certain Look' is as tranquil as most of the album is scurried. This just sounds like closing time, with the stools being put on the bar, a few couples lingering, refusing to say goodbye long after last call. Sputnik has a familiar ring to it, almost like Donald Fagan's New Frontier meeting Coltrane's Giant Steps. (That thought's almost as frightening as the cold war.) Rob Dixon's Allusions has a very Stan Getz feel to it. Distant, breathy saxophone always seems to be more reflective and introspective. Spanish Harlem captures the era of Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente when Afro and Cuban rhythm found each other in this neighborhood that became a hotbed for music. 'Kerouac', so few names quickly bring a person to a time, place or style. The beatnik movement is revisited in this final cut written by Steve Allee.
This is one of my favorite albums of this year. I didn't say "local albums", I said albums. At least that's what they used to call sound recordings when they were pressed in vinyl, not laser-etched in mylar. Allee and his crew have made a solid jazz album that is as complex as the city and era that it is named after. Were Wakefield's 50's simpler times? Better times? more creative times? Give Allee's version a listen and you be the judge.
Voted among top 5 jazz recordings of 1998
JAY HARVEY, INDIANAPOLIS STAR DEC. 27, 1998
Each Sunday, 'The Star' publishes staff-written record reviews that run the gamut of musical genres. Pop music writer David Lindquist coordinates what is reviewed and compiles the column.
One of our critics' favorites of 1998 is:
'STEVE ALLEE, NEW YORK IN THE FIFTIES'
Indianapolis' prime mover as pianist-bandleader evokes an era in a score for a still unreleased film based on Dan Wakefield's memoir. The music is as powerful and fresh as if this were a just-discovered recording by an unknown late '50's band.
BEST OF INDY '98 - INDIANAPOLIS MONTHLY NOV. 98
Local jazzman Steve Allee created the score for the documentary based on native son Dan Wakefield's book, 'New York in the Fifties'. The result can be heard on a terrific instrumental CD that should broaden Allee's already growing national and international reputation.