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Ben Allison: Riding The Nuclear Tiger

Mark Corroto By

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Like Charles Mingus, the bassist Allison has taken an aggressive approach to his music. Allison formed the Jazz Composers Collective, a musician-run, nonprofit with a mission to foster creative artists and new music. Not waiting for the jazz establishment to pick up on what he is laying down, he performs and writes for small ensembles and large orchestras. Like Mingus, music seems to constantly flow from all his activities.

Together with pianist Frank Kimbrough, he formed the Herbie Nichols Project to perform and record this long-overlooked composer’s music. It seems Kimbrough and Allison were drawn to Nichols, whose career paralleled that of Thelonious Monk, but without the media attention. Allison takes inspiration in his own writing from Nichols’ borrowing from Dixieland, R&B, and classical music, by creating music that while remaining faithful to the jazz canon, is mindful of a time when jazz was also jovial, amusing and an expression of the composer’s personality.

This is the third disc by Allison’s band Medicine Wheel. The 1999 recording Third Eye was on just about everyone’s top ten list for the year and I’m certain Riding The Nuclear Tiger will repeat with top honors. Medicine Wheel makes music from a jazz renegade perspective. Musicians like Monk, Mingus, Lester Bowie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Willem Breuker, and Matt Wilson come to mind when you hear their music. With band members comfortable with the avant-, Allison is able to focus them back inside for highly personable music. On “Weazy” saxophonist Michael Blake simultaneously plays two saxophones over a circus waltz. “Tectonics” is a groove piece located somewhere on the Indian continent. But Allison is not just about quirks. His solid arrangement of “Jazz Scene Voyeur” comes from Ellington via Mingus.

Medicine Wheel is packed with jazz stars like Frank Kimbrough and sidemen soon to be stars Michael Blake (Slowpoke), Jeff Ballard (Chick Corea’s Origin), Ron Horton (Andrew Hill’s Sextet), Michael Blake (Slowpoke, Lounge Lizards) and Tomas Ulrich (Dominic Duval and Ivo Perelman). If you haven’t hitched yourself to this wagon, now’s as good a time as any.

Title: Riding The Nuclear Tiger | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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