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Chris Allard Band

Open Spaces


by Ian Mann

June 22, 2010


A good demonstration of Allard's all round talents as a guitarist and composer.

Chris Allard Band

“Open Spaces”

(Audacious Records AR-CA 10071)

Chris Allard is a versatile guitarist who has played with a wide range of names across the jazz spectrum including Jamie Cullum, Gwyneth Herbert, Dave O’Higgins, Carleen Anderson, Michael Garrick, Julian Joseph and all of the Dankworth family (John, Cleo, Alec and Jacqui).

“Open Spaces” reflects Allard’s broad range of influences which his press release describes as including fellow guitarists Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jimi Hendrix and Dave Gilmour plus influential jazz composers such as trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Brad Mehldau. It’s a good calling card and touches most of Allard’s bases whilst encompassing a broad stylistic and emotional range.

Allard plays both electric and acoustic guitars and is joined by a highly capable band that includes some of the best young players on the contemporary UK jazz scene. Ex pat Aussie Brandon Allen is on tenor sax with the versatile Ross Stanley on piano and keyboards plus Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Nick Smalley at the drums. All nine tunes are Allard originals with Jacqui Dankworth joining the group to sing her own words on the song “Time Is No Fool”.

The quintet kick off with “Lava”, a coolly swinging blues that includes suitably smoky tenor from Allen plus nimble, fluent guitar from the leader. Allard uses his effects judiciously particularly behind Hayhurst’s typically agile solo.

The title track is more impressionistic, a slowly unfolding “story song” that reveals something of Allard’s Metheny influences without ever sounding like a copy. Allard makes use of overdubbing to deploy both acoustic and electric guitars. His electric solo has a choked intensity that draws on both rock and blues. The Metheny influence here and elsewhere is to be found more in the structure of the tunes than in the actual sound or tone. The overall effect is dramatic, impressive and highly effective.

“Vertigo” is similarly impressive with Stanley showing his lyricism at the piano alongside Allard’s more consciously Metheny-ish guitar. It’s hard not to evoke the Metheny/Mays comparison but this is not meant as a criticism, the whole piece is hugely enjoyable and Allen’s tenor throws a welcome extra flavour into the pot.

Like Metheny Allard has an unfailing ear for a good tune and the expansive “Waltz For Libby” is a tender and attractive ballad that contrasts Allard’s languid guitar with Allen’s more assertive tenor. Hayhurst and Stanley also get to demonstrate their abilities and Allard deploys both acoustic and electric instruments on yet another piece that demonstrates his abilities as both a composer and performer.

The song “Time Is No Fool” matches singer Jacqui Dankworth’s words with Allard’s pretty folk tinged tune.  Allard is a regular member of Dankworth’s band and here she returns the compliment in a particularly pleasing manner. Dankworth’s voice is cool and lovely as she sings her bitter-sweet lyric sympathetically backed by Allard’s understated acoustic guitar. 

“Stocks Hill” continues the pastoral theme with a memorable tune that builds powerfully and again fuses electric and acoustic instruments. Again the contrast between Allard’s guitar and Allen’s more impassioned tenor is absorbing and effective.

“Insurgence” offers the opportunity for the quintet to demonstrate their bop chops on a tricky, fast moving little theme with Allard and Allen both delivering sparkling solos. There’s also something of a feature for Smalley who drums solidly and sympathetically throughout the album.

“Lizards” keeps the energy levels up but in more of a funk/fusion vein. It’s an impressive and enjoyable example of the style with Allen delivering his most powerful playing yet and Allard taking another opportunity to rock out. Stanley’s piano solo is his most expansive on the album as the quintet transcend the limits of a rather tired genre to produce something exciting and enjoyable.

The closing “Arequipa” is a lovely duet between Allard on guitar and Stanley on piano, inspired perhaps by the Metheny/Mehldau collaboration from a few years back. It’s a relaxed postscript to a very good album that demonstrates Allard’s all round talents as a guitarist. The album also highlights his considerable abilities as a composer and although it’s not distinctive enough to propel Allard into the jazz premier league this is still an album that deserves to do well. It’s been put together with a lot of skill and care and the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high. At present Allard looks to be pretty busy with Jacqui Dankworth’s band. I’d encourage her many fans to give Allard’s album a go.

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