REVIEW: Alvin Queen – I Ain’t Looking At You

Any time you read something promoting a jazz musician, whether it’s the album notes or publicity info of other kinds, one of the obligatory components is always a list of other musicians the artist has played with at some time or another. Assuming those names are recognizable, it serves to establish some legitimacy. (If the artist is sort of new they might also list their “influences”, but I tend to discount those. After all, I might be influenced by Hemingway but that doesn’t mean I can write like him.)

Jazz drummer Alvin Queen has a list of former partners that rivals any I’ve ever seen, and that’s a tribute to the continuous demand for his services during his thirty-plus years in the business. Nineteen musicians are listed, and although I’m certainly not going to take you through the entire roll-call, I will say that the list includes Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, and the two best-known Marsalis brothers. (For the full list and more info about Alvin, you can visit his website.)

His newest album, I Ain’t Looking At You, just out on the Enja/Justin Time label, showcases his talent and that of his group, which consists of Jesse Davis on alto sax, Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn, organist Mike LaDonne, and guitarist Peter Bernstein. It’s a talented ensemble and they’re all given plenty of opportunity to shine, as Queen’s presence is solid but never overpowering. This is a refreshing change from some drummers, who seem to feel they have to dominate.

The first cut, “There’s Blues Everywhere”, a song written by organ great Shirley Scott, allows LaDonne to indulge in some good old funk and everyone else joins in with spirited solos. The good feelings continue but in a more subdued manner on Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps To Heaven”, which opens with Queen’s long drum solo, followed by Stafford doing a good job on the trumpet and a Bird-like turn by Davis on sax.

Davis also reminds us of Parker on “Queen’s Beat”, a song written by organist LaDonne, who turns in some strong work, as does trumpeter Stafford. And don’t overlook guitarist Bernstein — on this and other cuts as well, he’s a talented performer who I’ll be watching for in the future.

The title song of the album is funky and fun, especially when someone (Queen?) shouts out that magic phrase a time or two. And “Shirley’s Song” is another by Shirley Scott but softer and smoother than the earlier pick, and was a very nice listen — one of my favorites. Also to be savored was the ballad “Old Folks”, which is a lush and mellow piece reminiscent of earlier times but with the added backing of LaDonne’s softer organ sound. Nice.

Lots of good listens on this album, with every tune a celebration of top jazz musicians coming together and sharing the spotlight with a generous leader. I’d recommend it as a good addition to any jazz library.

1. There’s Blues Everywhere
2. Seven Steps to Heaven
3. Contemplation
4. Queen’s Beat
5. I Ain’t Looking at You
6. Shirley’s Song
7. Old Folks
8. Nutville
9. Mellow Soul

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