Mike Allen Quartet: Jewels of the jazz scene

With the combination of Coltrane-esque tenor sax melodies, virtuosic ivory tickling, and an innovative rhythm section to hold down the fort, the Mike Allen Quartet is a precious jewel of the local jazz scene. The group is comprised of three Vancouver jazz veterans; saxophonist Mike Allen, pianist Miles Black, bassist Adam Thomas, and is topped off with the talented Bellingham drummer, Julian MacDonough.
In 1985, fresh from receiving his Masters in Music at New York University, Allen began performing in Montreal and New York City. But it wasn’t until playing the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree in 1988 that his “quartet” became more official. When Allen relocated to Vancouver, BC in 1995 the group began to evolve into its current inception.
Allen met and began working with Miles Black in 1995. Known as one of Vancouver’s busiest and most seasoned jazz musicians, Black “has been a highly-coveted sideman for so many musicians in the region,” according to Allen. The two musicians hit it off, and Black later joined the Mike Allen Quartet in 1996 to record “One Step Closer” and tour with the group. As Allen has said, Black is a vital part of the group’s “texture and sense of balance [and] adds such an important dimension…[he] has an uncanny ability to know exactly what to do to strengthen our sound.”
Julian MacDonough was added to the group in 2000 following a regular gig he and Allen performed together at Bellingham’s former Stuart’s Coffee House on Bay Street. MacDonough is “hard-wired to interact and inspire [adding] incredible energy and creativity to our music,” Allen said. MacDonough’s playful precision and dynamic use of rhythmic pallets add such spice to the group’s sound.
The last addition to the group, but certainly not the least, was Adam Thomas. This graduate of the prestigious North Texas State Jazz Department joined to record Fearless in 2004, and has been a member of the group ever since. With his strong sense of groove and a voice as sultry as Nat King Cole’s, Thomas is a “force of nature,” Allen said. “His depth of understanding in all the ways to engage in the music brings out the best in each of us.”
This current inception of the Mike Allen Quartet has recorded three albums together since 2008, A Hip Cosmos, Faculty Jazz Collective, and Adam Thomas’ For My Love. Each recording is a symbiosis of collective influences and each member’s artistry.  “We’re inspired by the music of Miles Davis’ great bands,” Allen said, “and the fire and intensity of John Coltrane’s classic quartet. But mostly we are inspired by each another’s playing.”
Audiences can enjoy their interplay live throughout the region, and more regularly in Bellingham since Allen became the head of the Jazz Department at Western Washington University. He has redesigned the program with his quartet in mind, inviting Black, Thomas and MacDonough teach and perform with him there.
Though the group was technically on hiatus last year when Thomas took creative sabbatical, they are starting some new projects soon. “We are set to begin recording a new album in October,” Allen said, “and following it up with a release concert at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in January 2014.” Clearly, (and luckily!) we haven’t heard the last of the Mike Allen Quartet.

-Alexa Peters