Conservatory-educated jazz musicians often follow a similar developmental path as they mature, typically expanding the relatively narrow focus of their academic training to reexamine the non-jazz related music styles that initially inspired them. Take the young lions of the pre-millennial era for example; most have extended their purview beyond straight-ahead hard bop to incorporate aspects of the funk, r&b and soul music they grew up with. The same paradigm exists for their avant-garde counterparts, whose demographic is generally raised on rock. Bassist and composer Ben Allison is indicative of the latter group; The Stars Look Very Different Today, ...read more
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 ...read more
On his eighth album, Little Things Run The World, bassist/composer Ben Allison delves further into the cinematic Americana explored on his previous release, Cowboy Justice (Palmetto, 2007). Inspired by a quote from biodiversity expert E.O. Wilson, the album features a selection of multi-layered tunes that rely on structural interdependency as much as the social organisms Wilson studied. Naming the ensemble Man Size Safe, after a news item about the ominous item located in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, Allison expresses his dissatisfaction with the current political climate through titling--similar to a previous era's socially active jazz ...read more
Ben Allison Cowboy Justice Palmetto Records 2006 Michael Bates' Outside Sources A Fine Balance Between the Lines 2006 Bands led by bassists are something of a novelty, even today. From the blowing sessions led by Paul Chambers in the 1950s, to Mingus' innovations, and on to modern day masters like Mario Pavone, the gentle giant of jazz axes has, in a leadership role, a limited but colorful history. In the great tradition of these ...read more
Bassist Ben Allison was a virtual unknown when this album was originally released by Palmetto in 1998. After Seven Arrows (Koch, 1996), this was Allison's first major release. Combining conservatory training, ethnic/world music fusions, post-bop energy and free-jazz vigor, Allison and company were on the cusp of a new movement. Listening to this recording in retrospect reveals a blueprint for the new breed of jazz improviser. Medicine Wheel is a watershed moment in end of the century East Coast jazz.
The personnel list reveals a virtual who's who of emerging talent. Saxophonists Ted Nash and Michael Blake have ...read more
Ben Allison's modern jazz quartet brings a fresh spirit to his latest project with sensual impressions that relate to the world around us. For his original compositions, the bassist has borrowed from the nightly news, world affairs, social ills and reflections on the way things are around us. The result is a varied soundscape of lovely melodies filled with spontaneity and charm.
Trumpeter Ron Horton expresses with heartfelt emotion. His natural tone and passionate demeanor bring his message direct from the soul. Guitarist Steve Cardenas adds a lyrical flavor that colors the session with contemporary coolness, while drummer ...read more
Cowboy Justice sticks to the basics. Each tune opens with a repeated riff that is then accented by the other instruments, heavy on layered harmonies. Ben Allison is one of the founding members of the non-profit Jazz Composers Collective, a hub for young, forward-thinking talent, and Cowboy Justice has the feel of a workshop the Collective might put on, a testing ground for basic melodic ideas yet to be fully fleshed out.The first tune, Tricky Dick," begins with a strummed electric guitar riff, which Ron Horton's trumpet then circles around with brief, round-toned stabs, until he introduces the ...read more
From the Jazz Composers Collective to Peace Pipe and Medicine Wheel, bassist/composer Ben Allison has been a force in creative jazz for over a decade. Joined by two Medicine Wheel veterans, drummer Jeff Ballard and trumpeter Ron Horton, Allison also invites adaptable newcomer Steve Cardenas--currently a member of the Paul Motian Band and the first guitarist to play in an Allison group--into the fold. The titular theme seeps through the album, giving it a distinctly American flair. As a composer, Allison has long favored a sweet and sour approach, tempering his buoyant melodies with an undercurrent of melancholy, ...read more
Ben Allison is a jazz musician you should keep an eye on. Influenced by Charlie Haden, but with a voice all his own, this year seems to be quite a ride for his career. DownBeat magazine selected him as one of the 25 rising jazz stars for the future," and he also won the prestigious Bird Award" at the 2005 North Sea Jazz Festival, an honor previously awarded to important artists including Misha Mengelberg, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins. All About Jazz caught up with Allison to speak with him about his career and musical choices.
Frank Kimbrough Lullabluebye Palmetto 2004
For more than ten years, pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Ben Allison have collaborated on numerous projects of the Jazz Composers Collective and their own. Despite their frequent appearances together, the two have different approaches as composers and leaders.
On Lullabluebye, Kimbrough explores the classic piano trio, infusing it with a modern sensibility and exciting performances from Allison and drummer Matt Wilson. This limited instrumentation, in less capable hands, could result in same-sounding material. But here, the tunes take a variety of forms. The title track, a jaunty blues ...read more
Despite its moderate tempo, Respiration," the opening track on Buzz, sets an insistent tone that drives the album’s first three tracks. Bassist Ben Allison penned all three charts, which feature tight, energetic ensemble playing by the six-piece band as well as plenty of open space for improvisation, including a textured piano solo by Frank Kimbrough on Respiration" and a blistering tenor solo by either Michael Blake or Ted Nash (the promo copy of the disc does not specify) on Buzz." The third track, Green Al," is an upbeat bluesy tenor feature that has the sort of undeniable appeal of which ...read more
On the fourth album with his group Medicine Wheel bassist Ben Allison continues to push the boundaries of structured music with a programme of six originals and one Beatles cover. With a straightforward sound that belies a richer complexity, Allison continues to present invention masked in simplicity, combining intelligence with emotional depth.
Buzz opens with Allison’s “Respiration,” a 9/4 piece that is insistent, with simple interweaving bass, piano and electric piano parts laying the groundwork for a snake-like horn theme that manages to have the same kind of pop-like sensibility of groups like E.S.T.; once the theme is stated the ...read more
Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel have a history of going against the grain, with their provocative form of New York jazz. Allison has said that “a composition should create a landscape in which a musician can freely explore and find an individual voice.”
With its fourth release, however, Medicine Wheel turns collective and moves its circle closer to the center. Voices move together as one. Pleasant harmony and smooth rhythms support simple melodies. Their “New York buzz” has turned conformist.
”Green Al” serves as one of the album’s high points due to its lyrical nature ...read more
This article was submitted on behalf of Ben Allison.
In the summer of 1992, I was reading a biography about Alban Berg that described his and Arnold Schoenberg's frustration over the lack of adequate performance opportunities for their music and the gap that seemed to exist between them and the public. This situation inspired Schoenberg to look for alternatives to the usual channels that composers were forced to use to get their music heard. He and his colleagues decided to produce their own concerts, free from the pressures of traditional presenters and the critical press (both of ...read more
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