27 June 2011

Vancouver CD Review

by Roger Mills | Entertainment News Northwest

The vitality and competence of the jazz scene in Vancouver, B.C. is a well-documented fact, and here, in 10 great original tracks recorded at the Birch Theatre in Vancouver, is some of the proof. Mike Allen, an incredible, award-winning tenor sax talent, has just released his latest effort, simply entitled Vancouver. Joining Mike on this CD is a trio of some of the best jazz players around: Chris Gestrin on piano, Adam Thomas on bass and vocals, and Julian MacDonough on drums. Together, this quartet produces a mellow, intelligent sound that re-defines the phrase “easy listening.” Smooth and fluid, with appropriate dynamic versatility, these tunes wind their way into your soul. Mike Allen can play a tenor saxophone. All of it. His solos are impeccable, purposeful, and melodic. He uses every part of the horn’s range to great advantage, taming the upper notes well and letting the lower notes “squawk” appropriately for that wonderful raspy sound only the tenor sax can make. His fingers move faster than my mind can think, sometimes, and I sit in awe (check out Robson’s Strut). He supports his fellow players well when needed, adding just the right riff in just the right spot. A major talent. Although Allen is responsible for the lion’s share of the songwriting, each of the four has their hands in the mix. Of special note here are the three tunes written and sung by bassist Thomas. His haunting melodies and perfect-for-the-occasion voice are a real treat, and some of the highlights of the recording. “Walk in the Rain” is also a real showcase for Allen and his sax, and “There Were Fireworks” is my favorite of Thomas’ contributions. This reviewer’s love affair with the drumming of Julian MacDonough continues. No surprise that Mike Allen came south of the border for ‘hamster Julian’s rare talent. Perhaps a bit subdued in the mix for my tastes, Julian none-the-less shines through with solid performances. The real backbone of all musical situations I’ve seen him in, Julian’s rhythmic subdivisions defy description to all but the most knowledgeable, but just keep your foot tapping and you’ll find him “right there”. He sure gets the most out of a set of drums! Add to all of this the steady fill of Gestrin’s piano, smoothly doing just what is needed to keep a good forward flow to the sound, and you have a very special effort here. Vancouver is a CD worth adding to any collection, and that can be done by going to Mike’s web site,, and following the links. Enjoy!