Ben Allison: Think Free (2009)
Gradually moving away from the chamber music-like aesthetic of his Medicine Wheel and Peace Pipe ensembles of the nineties, bassist Ben Allison has begun embracing his formative influences, leaning towards a slightly more rock-oriented sound. Think Free is his third Palmetto album in as many years, thematically following Little Things Run the World (2008) and Cowboy Justice (2006). Looking beyond traditional jazz for inspiration, Allison weaves bittersweet pop melodies, folksy Americana, and subtle rock music flourishes into an evocative sonic tapestry teeming with opulent lyricism.
Joined by youthful peers well versed in the same populist strains, Allison's quintet includes veteran collaborator guitarist Steve Cardenas (Paul Motian Sextet, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra), critically acclaimed violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones), trumpeter Shane Endsley (Kneebody), and drummer Rudy Royston (Bill Frisell, Ron Miles).
Allison's shift from the lavish arrangements of Medicine Wheel and Peace Pipe to a more streamlined approach is subtle. Though understated, these compositions maintain his predilection for sweeping, anthemic melodies and luxuriant harmonies. His integration of rock music's raw, primal aesthetic is equally nuancedthere are no screaming guitar solos herethis is a democratic effort, born of collective interplay, not heroic grandstanding. Testosterone fueled seventies jazz-rock is anathema to Allison's concept; his is a kinder, gentler fusionmore Frisell than John McLaughlin.
The genteel simplicity of "Fred," the shimmering kaleidoscopic expanse of "Platypus," and the melancholy vibe of "Broke" evoke the American heartland with their memorable themes and affable dialogues. Endsley's silver-toned trumpet, Schneiman's earthy violin, and Cardenas' pliant guitar make a diaphanous yet salient front-line, ably supported by Allison and Royston's elastic, in-the-pocket grooves. Even at their most impassioned, "Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Godzilla" finds the quintet's roiling undercurrent and scorching solos tempered by a languid pulse.
In addition to new pieces, Allison re-arranges some older tunes for this new line-up. "Peace Pipe" from the 2002 Palmetto album of the same name features an especially intriguing reinterpretation, as Allison, Cardenas, and Scheinman re-harmonize Mamadou Diabate's original West African kora part in soaring three-part Midwestern harmony. The ethereal "R&B Fantasy" from Buzz (Palmetto, 2004) is transformed into the mildly rocking "Sleeping Giant," and "Green Al" from the same record, ends this date with a gorgeous, soulful theme.
The third release in a trilogy, Think Free is a lush and rewarding session documenting Allison's continuing growth as a composer.
Track Listing: Fred; Platypus; Broke; Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Godzilla; Sleeping Giant; Peace Pipe; vs. Godzilla; Green Al.
Personnel: Ben Allison: bass; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Shane Endsley: trumpet; Jenny Scheinman: violin; Rudy Royston: drums.