Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen: Lower East Side (2013)
Published: February 7, 2013
Pianist Ehud Asherie and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen are established musical partners with a shared fondness for a time when songwriting giants like Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers were at their creative zeniths. Lower East Side is the pair’s second duo outing, following on from Upper West Side (Posi-Tone, 2012), and once again the two demonstrate how this fondness for a bygone era can still produce fresh and joyous music.
The journey from Upper West Side to Lower East Side is geographically short—just a few miles. Musically, Esherie and Allen’s journey is as brief as can be. Both albums feature the same mix of standards—some famous, some undeservedly less so—and the same stylish combination of tenor sax and piano. Why mess up a good thing, as they say.
The mood throughout Lower East Side is relaxed, inviting, friendly. Asherie and Allen form a democratic, unselfish, partnership: a duo that functions best through mutual encouragement and cooperation. Such an arrangement may lack the fire and excitement of more competitive pairings but it more than makes up for this with a surfeit of good humor and high quality musicianship.
Asherie’s playing sparkles with a lightness of touch and an understated charm. He has a superb sense of rhythm—there’s never a moment where the music misses drums or bass especially when his stride playing takes center stage on tunes like Rodgers’ “Thou Swell.” His confidence is clear, his strong left-hand rhythms matched by emphatic, percussive, right hand melody lines. Allen’s soft, slightly breathy, sound gives every note he plays a tonal richness. He’s eminently capable of adding a raw edge but he does so sparingly, which simply heightens the impact of this shift in tone when it does appear—his use of it on “Thou Swell” gives the tune a sexier vibe than usual.
Both men have a warmth to their playing, which heightens the emotional impact of the songs, whether they are upbeat and cheerful or a little more romantic; Allen’s tenor on Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” combines softness and warmth like a favorite blanket. The pair’s delightful take on Fred Rose’s “‘Deed I Do” finds them both at their most assertive, driving the tune at a fast tempo that guarantees to drive away the blues.
Although Esherie gets top billing on Lower East Side the great joy of this record is to be found in the interplay between piano and saxophone, between two terrific players with a deep, yet still evolving, musical relationship. Esherie and Allen form one of the most talented and most rewarding partnerships on the contemporary jazz scene.