Joined by tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (who is himself one of the top players of straight-ahead jazz and swing currently working), pianist Ehud Asherie romps his way through a wonderful set of American Songbook standards, referring back to stride, bop, and swing traditions and making you hear familiar fare like “S’posin’,” “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” and “Thou Swell” with new ears. Allen’s and Asherie’s back-and-forth is playful but respectful and both of them brim with fresh new ideas at all times. Recommended to all jazz collections.
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.
If you were fortunate enough to hear Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen’s Upper West Side, which I gave a 4.5 star review of in Downbeat, then you should must check out the duo’s latest release, Lower East Side. Every quality that graced the former album is abundant on the latter: Asherie’s delicious touch and masterful stride playing, Allen’s husky and romantic old school tenor playing, gorgeous old tunes that aren’t often played, and the duo’s ability to employ older styles to make new statements. This album is outstanding from top to bottom. The medium swinger “S’posin’” starts things off, and it’s the perfect vehicle for Allen’s lyricism, and dig his use of a slight growl a la Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, etc. Asherie’s playing throughout the album, especially when he plays in a stride style, as on “Hallelujah!”, makes me wish more players would incorporate such an important piano style into their playing. A.C. Jobim’s “Portrait in Black and White” is haunting; Allen’s reading of the melody is silky smooth and utterly captivating. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ “Hey There” is a lovely ballad, as is “Thanks a Million.” The album closes with the somewhat bittersweet and wistful “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” The track is another example of everything that’s great about this album. It showcases two fantastic musicians who expertly execute their strong points of view and who make music that’s fun, moving, timeless, and above all, swinging.
If you missed Upper West Side go back and check that out. And then dig into Lower East Side, as it picks up right where the previous album left off.
In this day and age, when shock-and-awe maneuvers and new-thing sounds tend to get all the plaudits and press in jazz, it says a lot when a throwback duo date is widely admired by critics and fans alike. Such was the case with pianist Ehud Asherie’s Upper West Side (Posi-Tone, 2012), which brought him into contact with like-minded saxophonist Harry Allen and presented a program of old chestnuts that were revived by their expert hands. Now, a year after that album first appeared in the marketplace, its companion piece has come to light.
Upper West Side and the newly minted Lower East Side were both recorded during one hell of a magical session in the fall of 2009 and, while it’s impossible for an outsider to know whether specific songs were earmarked for specific albums at that point in time, it’s easy to theorize that they were; both albums are cut from the same cloth, but they aren’t the same. Asherie is a bit more extroverted on Lower East Side, as he dons his Fats Waller cap and conjures the spirit ofWillie “The Lion” Smith. Allen also plays things a bit hotter on this second go round. He still delivers that melt-your-soul tone time and again, but he’s also a bit more boisterous in places.
The usual suspects, like Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein, all show up to the party at one time or another, but it’s the unlikely appearance of Antonio Carlos Jobim that proves to be most interesting. When they take on his “Portrait In Black And White,” Asherie and Allen briefly visit another place, where Brazilian music is glazed over with an Argentine sealant and left to dry in the warm and intoxicating air of night. This one serves as a little reminder that these guys aren’t simply period piece players; sure, they can evoke memories of long gone days, but they’re also full of surprises.
As like-minded practitioners of traditional jazz, pianist Ehud Asherie and tenor saxman Harry Allen have gotten together to play duets in NYC’s famed jazz clubs such as Small’s. They also paired up for an enjoyable and intimate set on record, Upper West Side, Asherie’s forth album. Now only a year later, Asherie returns with Allen and Lower East Side, where they do more of the same happy, crisp treatments of reliable standards. As before, they get away with following with playing old songs the old way because they bring a fresh enthusiasm and advanced musicianship to it. Every description I applied to last year’s one-on-one affair can be said about this year’s, too.
That is to say, Asherie and Allen stride, swing and sentimentalize their way through the covers with personal warmth. They put the smile as well as the swing to upbeat tunes like “S’posin,” “Hallelujah!,” “‘Deed I Do,” which even gets a little attitude when Allen flashes that familiar rasp in his horn. Asherie, meanwhile, has such great facility to separate the comping of his left hand with the lead of his right, and “Thou Swell” shows how well he’s absorbed the detail of the style of his stride hero James P. Johnson. He can also caress the keys with just the right touch on softer numbers such as “Always,” and “Portrait In Black And White.”
Allen, who is perhaps the premier pre-Rollins/Coltrane tenor saxophonist of his generation, plays his horn in the way that made the saxophone the dominant horn in jazz. He growls and rolls his notes with a real character largely missing in sax playing today on the uptempo tunes. He balances that by his lustful intonations on the melancholy and romantic pieces such as “Hey There” and “Some Other Time,” where he so effectively breathes longingly into his mouthpiece. The two often engage in call and response where they trade off so smoothly because they undeniably have been performing these duets for years.
It’s a level of telepathy and a perfect matching of talents that plenty justified more than one album of this get-together.
Ehud Asherie – piano
Harry Allen – saxophone
1. S’posin’: swinging good time. Asherie bass walks with his left hand. Allen’s familiar rasp on display here. EA is crisp.
2. Hallelujah!: not gospel, but boy it’s rejoieful. EA plays like Fats Waller. HA can almost be heard smiling through his sax.
3. Portrait In Black And White: for this melancholy number HA plays closer to Stan Getz.
4. Hey There: HA lustful intonations. EA light touch.
5. Thou Swell: EA plays a nimble relaxed stride. Trades fours with HA.
6. Some Other Time: a romantic number , HA breathes longingly into his mouthpiece.
7. Thanks A Million: HA again blows like every note means something. EA’s phrasing is right in the pocket.
8. ‘Deed I Do: another joyful. EA’s conping is snappy. HA raspy. Trading fours.
9. Loads Of Love: light swing, HA “sings” the lyric lines.
10. Always: EA nice caressing touch on keys.
11. When I Grow Too Old To Dream: EA ornate sounding, but modulates well. Call and response.
Ehud Asherie – Lower East Side
Lower East Side is pianist Ehud Asherie’s sequel to last year’s Upper West Side. Once again Asherie entertains in the company of tenor saxophonist Harry Allen through a set of choice standards. The like-minded duo produce sophisticated swing with predictable results, engaging an elegance in style with cocktail-set coziness. It would be misleading, however, to imply that the music is mere sentimental light fare. Asherie and Allen are both well studied and nuance sensitive, bringing the past to life in a manner that is startlingly convincing. All that being said, it’s also a lot of fun. Toe-tapping is inevitable on bouncy tunes such as “Thou Swell,” “S’posin'” and “‘Deed I Do.” Jobim’s “Portrait in Black and White” recalls Stan Getz and the bossa nova heyday and “Some Other Time” is an endearing ballad.
Ehud Asherie / Harry Allen Lower East Side Posi-Tone 2013
Posi-Tone has quickly become one of my two favorite straight ahead record labels due primarily to the consistency and high quality releases their formidable stable of artists continue to churn out. Lower East Side which streets on 02/26/13 is no exception.
Now there are plenty of good piano/tenor saxophone releases to be found if one looks hard enough. The Stan Getz/Albert Dailey Blue Note release from 1983 ranks as perhaps the one of the two greatest of all time. Lower East Side may be the #2. While Getz and Dailey took a more familiar old school standard approach, Asherie and Allen hit some eclectic work perhaps long forgotten by some by such notables as Irving Berlin, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Richard Rogers for an incredibly invent riff on old school swing done with lyrical intensity and harmonic invention that creates yet another new or tweaked hybrid of soul and swing.
While Asherie’s growth as an artist is unparalleled, both Asherie and Harry Allen often are over looked in the grand scheme of things and this release may well push them over the top. While the Jobim tune “Portrait In Black And White” may seem odd done as a tenor/piano duet, there is the Brazilian flavor Getz lovers know all to well and the intimacy that Asherie brings to the table seals the deal. Flavor, texture and Asherie’s mastery of his own harmonic vision make this tune a highlight of the release. “Hey There” (Adler/Ross) is another relaxed and soulful standard not often performed or recorded as of late. A slight articulated pop of vitality creates a reharm that highlights the artists while respecting the original. “When I Grow Too Old To Dream” has Allen’s trademark soulful approach and style that can make any tune sound like a standard.
Technically this is an Ehud Asherie recording however the chemistry between Asherie and Allen is undeniable. Twin sons of different mothers allow for a musical cohesion and harmonic direction that is sublime in presentation. There are other piano/tenor duets that can play the notes but they can not make the music. Asherie and Allen simply don’t have that problem.
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.
EHUD ASHERIE with Harry Allen/Upper West Side: When you can’t tell just who is the leader on this duo date why is that Allen gets kind of a minority billing? And just why has this sweetie of a date been sitting in the can for 3 years? Screw the weak economy! A sublime face off between two jazz cats at the top of their games on piano and sax, the set list focuses on oldies but goodies and I guess I’m not big Apple enough to know what exactly these songs have to do with this particular New York neighborhood, but god damn is this a classy session (does that answer my own question?). Must listening for when the grown up in you is escaping. Killer stuff.
Ehud Asherie: Upper West Side (2009 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, b. 1979, Israeli (as I recall; his Flash website crashed when I tried to look at it), based in New York; sixth album since 2007. This is a duo “with” tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, who gets smaller, skinny type on the front cover, but carries the standards set, especially from “Our Love Is Here to Stay” (fourth song) on. At times Asherie reminds me of one of those pianists who used to accompany silent films, but he keeps Allen moving, rarely finding a solo spot, as on “My Blue Heaven” where he raises Fats Domino to a higher energy orbit. A-