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Brandon Allen’s Groove Band

Brandon Allen’s Groove Band, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 13/06/2024.

Photography: Photograph by Carl Whotakes Photos sourced from the Music Spoken Here Facebook page [url=][/url]

by Ian Mann

June 15, 2024


An excellent musical performance from all five band members. I was also highly impressed with the quality of Allen’s writing, which really was a revelation.

Brandon Allen’s Groove Band, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 13/06/2024

Brandon Allen – tenor & soprano saxophones, keyboard, Mike Outram – guitar, Hamish Balfour – keyboards, Chris Attwell – electric bass, Laurie Lowe – drums

Australian born, London based saxophonist, composer and bandleader Brandon Allen has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, both as the leader of his own projects and as a prolific sideman on the British and international jazz scenes.

As the leader of his own quartet Allen has presented homages to two of his favourite American saxophonists, Gene Ammons and Stanley Turrentine, touring extensively with both projects and committing the music of each to disc.

He has also co-led, with pianist Tim Lapthorn,  the BATL Quartet, a unit where the focus is firmly on the original writing of the co-leaders. This group’s 2019 album “BATL Quartet Live” is reviewed here.

With trumpeter Quentin Collins Allen co-leads the long running quartet QCBA with whom he has recorded the albums “What’s It Going To Be?” (2011) and “Beauty in Quiet Places” (2015). Both albums are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. Also featuring organist Ross Stanley and drummer Enzo Zirilli this group previously worked under the name Drugstore Cowboy and is inspired by classic Blue Note hard bop and soul jazz. They also work regularly with UK soul singer Omar Lye-Fook.

As a sideman Allen is probably best known for his long running tenure as a member of bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood’s band, a group that also includes Collins and British pianist Andrew McCormack.

A glance at Allen’s website reveals that he has worked with a plethora of big names across a wide variety of music genres, including jazz, rock, pop and soul, the long list representing a tribute to his skill and versatility. He has also written music for TV and film.

In a jazz context I have heard his playing  in the bands of guitarists Nigel Price, Chris Allard and fellow Aussie Blake Wilner and drummers Dylan Howe and Clark Tracey. He has also been part of Sax Appeal, led by fellow saxophonist Derek Nash.

Allen is also an acclaimed educator, offering private tuition and master classes as well as holding a Professorship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He also operates an artist booking agency and has been one of the organisers of London’s Highgate Jazz & Soul Festival.

Recently I’ve noticed that Allen has been gigging regularly around the London area with a new outfit, Brandon Allen’s Groove Band. This is a quintet that sees Allen moving away from the more straight-ahead jazz and hard bop that I’ve previously associated him with and concentrating on a more obviously ‘fusion’ sound in a line up including electric guitar, electric keyboards and electric bass. It’s the kind of instrumental configuration that lends itself well to delivering the “exceptional jazz, funk and fusion” promised by promoter Music Spoken Here. Dave Fuller of MSH had previously enjoyed seeing the Groove Band perform at the Sound Cellar in Poole and was determined to bring them to Worcester. I, for one, am very pleased that he did.

Tonight’s edition of the Groove Band featured Allen on tenor and soprano saxes and also saw him doubling on a Yamaha MX 49 electric keyboard. Meanwhile keyboard specialist Hamish Balfour doubled on Nord Stage keyboard and Prophet synth. The great Mike Outram featured on guitar, with Chris Attwell on five string electric bass. The group was completed by MSH favourite Laurie Lowe, who was standing in for regular drummer Jamie Murray and who gave a brilliant performance behind the kit.

In addition to the change of musical style the Groove Band is also notable for the fact that it concentrates exclusively on Allen’s original writing. I was very impressed by the quality of his compositions and for me this represented one of the most satisfying aspects of an excellent evening of music making. The quality of the playing from an exceptional group of musicians was never in question.

Lowe’s drums introduced the riff based opener “Eddie’s Funky Chicken”, inspired by the music of American saxophonist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Eddie Harris. This genuinely funky number included solos from Balfour on Nord, deploying an electric piano sound, Allen on tenor and Outram on guitar.

“Lost Worlds”, inspired by the 1985 Wayne Shorter album “Atlantis”, saw Allen moving to soprano sax and also doubling on his Yamaha keyboard. This was a piece that drew its inspiration from the funkier side of the Shorter songbook but which also embraced some daring dynamic shifts with Balfour effecting an organ like sound at the keyboards. Allen’s incisive soprano solo was followed by a soaring guitar solo from Outram, propelled by Lowe’s sturdy backbeat.

Allen has performed regularly in Japan and was denied a visit to the country during the lockdown period. That enforced absence inspired the composition “Missing Tokyo”, a multi-faceted piece that saw Allen producing koto like sounds via his Yamaha keyboard. An atmospheric intro featuring the sounds of Allan and Balfour’s keyboards and Lowe’s cymbal shimmers was followed by the drummer establishing a groove, quickly locked into by Attwell’s bass. Outram’s sustain heavy guitar solo was followed by Allen’s powerful statement on tenor.

Musically inspired by Weather Report and by the “Blade Runner” soundtrack “Angelus” was a break up ballad introduced by Balfour’s quasi-orchestral keyboard soundscapes and Lowe’s cymbal shimmers. Attwell’s liquidly lyrical electric bass solo channelled the spirit of Jaco Pastorius. He was followed by the sounds of Allen’s plaintive tenor sax and Balfour’s electric piano.

The first set concluded with “Slippery Nipple”, named as I understand it after a drink comprised of the rather lethal combination of sambuca and Bailey’s. Introduced by Lowe at the drums, a driving force throughout, this taut, angular, funky piece featured the powerful tenor sax soloing of Allen and the dirty electric piano sounds of Balfour. A searing Outram guitar solo was followed by a tenor sax reprise from the leader. An exciting and high energy way to end an excellent first set.

Set two commenced with another Covid inspired composition, “What’s This All About Then?”. The lockdown period was a frustrating time for musicians and tonight that frustration was still apparent in the urgency of the solos by Allen on tenor and Outram on guitar, both propelled by Lowe’s dynamic drumming.

“Drones” was inspired by the drone Allen acquired for his young son following weeks of pestering. It then crashed on its maiden flight, a salutary experience for father and son alike. Allen deployed the Yamaha keyboard, working in conjunction with Balfour to produce some suitably sci-fi keyboard sounds. Drums, bass and guitar then combined to establish a funky groove as Allen moved to soprano sax to instigate a series of increasingly impassioned instrumental exchanges with Outram’s guitar. Lowe was also featured towards the close, with Allen again doubling on keyboard.

Developed out of a bass line “The Party Crasher” featured Allen’s powerful r’n’b style tenor and also included solos from Outram on guitar and Balfour on keyboards, again deploying an electric piano sound. Given the genesis of the tune it was also appropriate that Attwell was featured on electric bass.

Allen cited the influence of artists such as soul singer Ray Charles and jazz organist Jimmy Smith on “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You”, a composition that he described as “a gospel love song”. This was a piece rich in terms of soul and gospel influences and featured fluent solos from Allen on tenor and Balfour on ‘organ’, these followed by a blues drenched guitar solo from the excellent Outram.

The evening concluded with “Alchemy”, a piece that Allen described as “an epic tune”. Drawing on prog rock and fusion influences this saw Allen doubling on keyboard before switching to tenor sax to combine with Outram on the melody line. The leader then stretched out expansively on tenor, followed by Balfour on keys, the latter working in conjunction with Outram.

This really was an excellent musical performance from all five band members and, as previously alluded to, I was also highly impressed with the quality of Allen’s writing, which really was a revelation. The 4.5 star rating reflects this.

The only disappointment was the sparsity of the attendance on an unseasonably chilly June evening. Those of us that were there really got behind the band, but there weren’t quite enough of us to make an encore, which would have been richly deserved, a reality. This was a shame as I’d have loved to have heard more of this.

I think Allen was slightly unfortunate in that his gig fell between MSH’s second ‘Birthday Bash’ and Hejira, the keenly anticipated Joni Mitchell tribute which will take place on June 27th.

My thanks to Brandon for speaking with me after the show. We discussed his keyboard playing, apparently he was both a pianist and a guitarist before falling in love with the saxophone, and the possibility of the Groove Band making a recording. As evidenced by tonight’s performance they already have an album’s worth of excellent material. As ever with jazz it’s a question of economics and finding the right deal. Let’s hope Allen can get this music ‘out there’ – it really does deserve to be documented on disc.

Having seen Allen performing live on numerous occasions I think that in purely musical terms this was the best thus far. As an event it lost something because of the poor attendance – the ‘stay aways’ really did miss something special.


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