Bassist/composer Ben Allison has been making lots of waves these days. A recent profile in “Downbeat” magazine discloses that Ben is among the top 25 young jazz cats on the scene. Also, Mr. Allison is the founder, Composer-in-Residence and Artistic Director of the New York City based Jazz Composers Collective. Here, with Allison’s third release, Third Eye the bassist composer along with stalwart members from the Jazz Collective, follow up on Allison’s highly acclaimed 1998 release, Medicine Wheel.
Not long after auditioning Third Eye while calling to mind Medicine Wheel, it has become unmistakably apparent that Allison is rapidly becoming a major stylist and composer, which of course is important for jazz! As a composer, Allison fuses various elements or ethnocentric traits into his special brand or style of writing. First and foremost a jazz musician, Allison’s deeply personal and seemingly systematic approach to composition and arrangements combined with a vivid imagination enable him to stand on his own as a prolific author of jazz music.
The opener, “Four Folk Songs” features Allison hammering his bass and Frank Kimbrough bowing his piano strings. Here we have musicians utilizing their respective instruments in unorthodox fashion as they explore sounds and perhaps emulate non-western style instruments. “Four Folk Songs” is a mini-suite of sorts enhanced by multi-ethnic motifs yet the bottom line is that...jazz is spoken here! On this piece, the excellent saxophonist Michael Blake utilizes his soprano sax to convey a jazzy yet somewhat mysterious tone, tinged with Far Eastern modal concepts and soul-searching lyricism. “Four Folk Songs” is a tour de force and at times evokes images of what Charles Mingus might be doing if he were still alive. “Kush” is named after the jazz club in New York City where Allison performs on Sunday evenings with his trio. Here, the listener is treated to beautifully portrayed North African themes, featuring the instrument known as the “Oud”, performed magnificently by Ara Dinkjian. On this composition, Allison reverts to a detuned guitar as “Kush” is highly entertaining and boasts a wonderfully melodic and thought provoking proposition. “Mantra” is a composition, which steadily evolves, yet is a light-hearted reference to a meditative ritual as Allison once again exploits his constitution of being an “idea man” by utilizing a drumstick to bang his bass strings. On this piece, the rhythmic pace heats up as Michael Blake churns in a hard-edged, multifaceted tenor sax solo in climactic fashion, featuring blazing choruses and gobs of captivating lyricism. “Andrew” is a pretty ballad enhanced by thoughtful solos from pianist Frank Kimbrough and cellist Tomas Ulrich. “Andrew” reconciles somber, pensive moods with glimpses of joy and adulation toward the finale. “Hot Head” finds pianist Frank Kimbrough performing blazing, Bud Powell-like right hand leads over deterministic and at times wavering rhythms as Allison stretches out on his fat-toned and deep sounding bass. Solos abound throughout various motifs
On Third Eye, Ben Allison puts his expansive musical vocabulary to work! Soon, Allison along with his superfine ensemble are destined to become one of the benchmarks or measuring sticks for modern day jazz composers and stylists. Allison’s sonnet style tone poems for jazz music are often beguiling and enormously accessible to those who live either within or outside the mainstream. Third Eye is among the very best of '99. * * * * *