REVIEW: Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker – Work To Do

Whether we realize it or not, I’m convinced that those of us who review new albums are subject to the same kinds of influences that affect any music fan (which we also are, of course). You might even call it an mental checklist, albeit an unconscious one in most cases.

That being said, it’s nice to come across a new album that most definitely earns a lot of check-marks on my mental list. Work To Do, now out on the Mack Avenue label, features an all-star jazz group led by drummer Carl Allen and bassist Rodney Whitaker, and is a follow-up to 2007’s well-regarded Get Ready.

The pair puts forth a philosophy that says a rhythm-led group sets a pulse that audiences respond to, and it’s difficult to argue with them. To help create their sound, they’re joined by a carwtalented group that expands to as many as nine musicians for some tracks. Among them are such talents as saxophonists Kirk Whalum and Vincent Herring, along with guitarist Rodney Jones and trumpeter Brandon Lee.

Leaders Allen and Whitaker have both been around long enough to earn their chops in a number of different varieties of jazz, and that diversity shows up on their recordings. Almost every jazz fan will find something to like here, whether your preference is traditional or funky soul-style, or any one of several other influences that show up from time to time.

Diversity is the key word when it comes to the mix of tracks too, with a number of different sounds being offered. They range all the way from a large-group instrumental featuring Lee’s solid trumpet on the Beatle’s “Eleanor Rigby,” to the title track, “Work To Do.” It’s the Isley Brothers’ hit recast as a showcase for Whalum’s tenor sax play, backed by the two leaders and George Colligan on piano.

Others good tracks include a Marvin Gaye classic, “What’s Going On,” which again utilizes all the musicians, and a song that’s probably the simplest treatment on the album. It’s the Johnny Mandel standard “A Time For Love,” a haunting piece sparingly performed by guitarist Jones accompanied by Whitaker’s on bass.

There are also a few written by the band-leaders themselves; the best — and probably my favorite here — is drummer Allen’s “Grahamtown,” which also features a strong solo from Herring’s alto sax. But it’s just one of many good listens on this solid collection from Carl Allen, Rodney Whitaker, and friends. Recommended.

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