Contemporary Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/18/1998
Although I don't listen to a lot of jazz, I have been trying to expand my knowledge of this musical form. It's not that I don't like it - the little I have heard, I love jazz. It's just that I've been immersed in rock for so long that my "random pulls" out of the Pierce Memorial Archives (bring me the head of Bill Wirtz on a platter) are almost always exclusively rock.
But what I have discovered is this: I like my jazz crunchy. The more uptempo the mood, the better - if I'm not tapping my foot to it or bopping my head to the beat, odds are I'm not happy.
Eric Allison, then, is an enigma to me. On his second CD After Hours, Allison shows how comfortable he is with the uptempo numbers. But Allison also overachieves a bit - he tries to prove that he's a capable musician in many different flavors of jazz. Listening to this disc is enjoyable, no doubt about that - but when I go to Baskin-Robbins, I don't want to taste all 31 flavors.
To say that Allison is the "leader" of this combo is a slight misnomer. Sure, he's usually the one upfront playing tenor or alto saxophone (and, on one occasion each, flute and clarinet). But his fellow players are just as equally important to the overall feel of each piece as Allison is - and without even one of them in the mix, the whole picture would suffer. Dr. Lonnie Smith's piano work is astounding, though I can't say I was very impressed with his two outings on the Hammond B-3. Bassist Dennis Marks and drummer Danny Burger each have to wait some time for their solo leads, but it's well worth the wait for both of them. And I couldn't begin to say enough about the trumpet work of John Bailey - I wouldn't have minded hearing him on more than the five tracks he plays on. (Also playing on the disc are alto saxophonist Jesse Jones, Jr. and baritone saxophonist Turk Mauro.)
Things start off well enough with "Midnight Groove," a track which had my foot working overtime keeping the beat. But the pure "jazz" feel of the disc is broken with the cover of Avery Parrish's "After Hours," a track that sounds more bluesy than it does jazz. (For that matter, the more I listen to artists like Thelonious Monk, the more I hear a lot of blues in their jazz performances.)
The jump around from style to style continues on almost every single track, from the soul leanings of "'Round About Dawn" to the Rashann Roland Kirk influences on "Tip-Toein'", from the rock feel of "No Cover" to the gospel tinges of "Sittin' In" to the New Orleans Cajun flavor of "Delta Joy," it occasionally gets tiring to have to keep switching genres. This isn't to say that some of these performances aren't worthy of your attention. The more I listened to "Sittin' In," the more I liked it, while "No Cover" and "Straight Up" gave me exactly what I wanted - upbeat, fastre-tempo jazz.
But after a few listens to After Hours, you do find yourself admitting that the mix of styles works - just not as well as if Allison and crew had maybe cut down to two or three genres and played more songs in those veins. (And no matter how hard I try, I just can't get into "Delta Joy". Maybe I need to spend some time sipping in the New Orleans ambiance - wonder if the missus is up for the car trip.)
One note about Allison's multi-instrument performance. As good as the sax work is, two words: more flute! "Tip-Toein'" brought back memories of Jethro Tull's early days, and I found myself constantly going back to this track. 'Nuff said.
Allison's talents, as well as those of his fellow bandmates, are above reproach. And After Hours would have been a perfect showcase for their talents had Allison settled on one or two particular styles, instead of trying to cram the history of jazz's evolution in 75 minutes. Still, this is a disc that's worth adding to your collection.