Dick Sisto and Steve Allee have been performing together and apart for decades. Cannonball Adderley called vibraphonist Dick Sisto an “excellent player” and Rufus Reid called pianist Steve Allee “world class.”
Now they have released Earth Tones (Jazzen Records) as the Dick Sisto Steve Allee Quartet with Jeremy Allen on acoustic bass and Jason Thiemann on drums. This is an album that does not disappoint in any way. While Sisto has been compared to Gary Burton and Steve Allee to Bill Evans, this is not even close to being imitative or derivative. This is an album of beautiful artistic originality and creativity.
The album opens with For the Little Ones, a Sisto original. The quartet kicks off together and immediately begin to lay down a lyrical melodic line that allows easy jump-off points for solos for the piano and vibraphone. Jeremy Allen’s bass and Jason Tiemann’s drums are brilliantly complementary.
Zebra Dreams, by Allee, is a bit of cool swing. In tandem and apart, Sisto and Allee are brilliant artists. Jeremy Allen’s bass solo is nicely hookish and so well in step with the melody. The theme is direct and straight-ahead and the rhythm section drives it forward.
Another Sisto original, Blue Planet, follows. It is a cool blues with Sisto’s vibes and Allee’s piano working all the right angles. Tiemann puts on a blues drum clinic and catches the attention. Sisto and Allee finish the piece in unison. Cool, cool number.
Allee’s Conversation with Bill is as lush as Bill Evans could have wanted. It is a showcase for Steve Allee’s lyricism and he takes the space made for him and lights your hair on fair. Dick Sisto takes his own turn in answer and responds cleanly and smartly. If I wasn’t hooked before, I was by now. Not just by the two principals but by all four members of the quartet. These guys smoke.
No Time Like Now (Sisto, comp.) jumps at you from the opening bass line. Vibes and piano work it together and open a door for Jeremy Allen’s bass solo. I love the way these guys work together. There is a synergy—even a telepathy—that comes from long hours playing together. I found myself wanting to concentrate on one or the other but kept being pulled between to where the action was. Multiple hearings kept my attention alive and captivated. Jason Thiemann does not disappoint on this, or any other, track.
Bill Evans’ Only Child—the only cover on the album—was a labor of love and respect and it shows in every way. Both Sisto and Allee take on the melody with such delicacy and tenderness. There is an appreciation, even a reverence, for the original material that allows them to recreate but not reiterate what Evans himself did. A splendid treatment.
Sisto’s Retroactive is a tightly swinging piece. It is a great piece to follow what went before. As excellent as this quartet is as musicians, the mastery of composition exhibited by Sisto and Allee should not be overlooked. These guys craft works of brilliance. Tiemann has a brief but hot drum solo and sells it.
Silver Cloud, by Steve Allee, has cool tempo changes and some broken rhythms that grab you by the ears. It is a straight-up Jazz piece that offers room for great solos from bass and drums as Sisto and Allee hold the melody. A fun piece.
The album ends with Dick Sisto’s Free Bird (not that one). Sisto finishes the album with fire and flare…and flair. Allee’s piano is lively and energetic and the whole quartet is in lock-step.
The Dick Sisto/Steve Allee Quartet is a well-established and sought-after live group who has brought that energy and creativity fast and forward on Earth Tones. The smoking rhythms, the crafty compositions, the electrifying melodies are all brought to bear here. These are artists to be cherished and admired and, without a doubt, enjoyed.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl