He returns to Australia to tour every few years, and for his Melbourne gig on Wednesday he assembled an antipodean version of his London sextet, featuring a mix of long-time associates and new musical friends.
With only one rehearsal prior to the concert, the musicians were kept on their toes by Allen’s imaginative and often intricate arrangements. The composers and tunes may have been familiar, but the leader – aided by the sharp reflexes and admirable cohesion of his bandmates – coaxed the compositions into new shapes via unexpected shifts in tempo, mood or metre.
Stardust began in a typically slow, luxuriant fashion, the three-horn front line (Allen on full-bodied tenor sax, Carl Mackey on alto sax and Jordan Murray on trombone) creating burnished harmonies before the ballad suddenly mutated into an up-tempo strut. Jobim’s No More Blues was taken at an irresistibly swift clip – more hip-shimmy samba than breezy bossa – and Pure Imagination saw all six players skipping across different time signatures with remarkable dexterity.
Importantly, though, it was the feel of each tune that mattered most to Allen. As the band travelled from urgent bop to soulful blues or Latin-tinged funk, they infused each phrase with energy and enjoyment, ensuring that the audience came along for the ride.