Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen Take Their Act Downtown
A little over a year ago, Posi-Tone put out Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen’s Upper West Side, a duo set of standards with a comfortably sleek, old New York sophistication. Now the pianist and tenor saxophonist have taken their act downtown with Lower East Side. Does this new album evoke superannuated wannabe prom queens stuffed into tacky dresses, passed out and pissing themselves on the sidewalk while their stretch limos block the crosswalks? No. This is a LES of the mind, one that goes back close to a hundred years. Asherie’s specialty is stride piano, a strength he downplayed on the previous album; here, he cuts loose with a mix of meticulousness and high spirits. Allen’s smoky charm is pretty much the same as it was before, although he gets more boisterous as he goes along. That the album swings as hard as it does despite the absence of bass and drums testifies to the inspiration of the playing: much of this is like stumbling into a club at four in the morning and slurring, “Can you play this or that?” and the band indulges you hetter than you could imagine.
Andy Razaf’s S’posin sets the tone with its jaunty combination of ragtime and torch. With its almost furtive, scampering groove, Vincent Youmans’ Hallelujah throws the church doors wide to let in some street flavor. Jobim’s Portrait in Black and White changes the mood with a potent turn into noir, Asherie hovering uneasily behind Allen’s overcast lines.
They go back to coy and a little devious with their take of the old Rosemary Clooney chestnut Hey There, then give Richard Rogers’ Thou Swell a blithely scampering jump blues treatment. The up/down tangent continues with a breathy, allusively lurid take of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time folllowed by the hazy yet perfectly precise happy hour version of Thanks a Million, a vibe they maintain on Loads of Love. Irving Berlin’s Always gets reinvented as a lush jazz waltz – who knew how much sheer fun this song could be? The album winds up with the easygoing, casual sway of When I Grow Too Old to Dream, Allen building from boudoir smolder to understated triumph over Asherie’s steady, carefree strolling pace. This one’s going to get a lot of play in bars and bistros: it should come with a parental advisory sticker because it makes you want a drink.