15 March 2011

Mike Allen’s Odyssey

by Mark Miller | Globe and Mail

For the saxophonist and pianist, the point of his coming 15,000 kilometre cross-Canada tour has a lot to do with the exposure. More important, it’ll be fun.

There are many ways for a Canadian to build a career in jazz. Some musicians take the direct route, moving to New York and toughing out a reputation in the Big Time. It’s an approach that has worked very well for Seamus Blake, D.D. Jackson, Ingrid Jensen, Renee Rosnes, John Stetch and several others.

The Vancouver-based tenor saxophonist and pianist Mike Allen, on the other hand, is taking the long way around. How long? About 15,000 kilometres—the estimated length of his latest Canadian tour, an eight-province, 17-city, 25-date trek that his trio will begin on Friday at The Cellar in Vancouver. By the time Allen, Vancouver bassist Paul Rushka and Seattle drummer Julian MacDonough are finished in late May, they will have driven to Shelburne, N.S., and back. First Shelburne, and then the world.

Actually, Allen, 37, has put in his time in New York, too. He was there in 1992 and 1993 for studies with fellow saxophonist Joe Lovano and with pianist Jim McNeely, following up terms at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and at McGill University in Montreal. Allen, however, is not a musician who appears to be in any great hurry; you can hear it in his tenor solos, the leisurely, yet self-assured quality of someone who knows exactly where he’s going, but will get there in his own good time and not a moment sooner.

And he does have a plan; in these militaristic times, it might even be called a campaign. “The point of this tour,” he notes, in a telephone interview from his home in East Vancouver, “is to do a massive odyssey and then divide it into smaller, more manageable tours in the future, maybe three or four a year—one in B.C., one in the Western provinces, one in Central Ontario and one in the East.”

At the same time, Allen has also been making flanking motions down through Washington, Oregon and California ever since he left Montreal for Vancouver in 1995. The first of these movements—indeed the reason that he moved West—was to continue his studies, this time with saxophonist Joe Henderson in San Francisco. Allen and his wife stopped in Vancouver en route, intending simply to wait out the paperwork that he required to head south.

“We got cozy here,” he says now. “The scene is a little more insulated, being on the West coast and having a little less circulation. There are things that happen in the music here that don’t happen in other places. You get a lot of people playing their own music in their own way. . . .