Tag Archives: ben allison

Jazz Composers Collective Festival This Weekend

Pooling ideas around shared interests worked wonderfully for a clique of young improvisers a couple of decades ago. Now this extended family, which stretches from bassist Ben Allison to pianist Frank Kimbrough and saxophonist Michael Blake, reunites mainly to celebrate anniversaries. This week’s program is enticing enough to warrant a visit each night, but I’d make sure to be there for Ron Horton’s Sextet (which utilizes all the group’s mainstays), as well as the JCC’s forays into the songbooks of Jim Hall and Herbie Nichols.

Jazz Standard 

Ben Allison: Action-Refraction

From Bjork to Black Sabbath, an array of pop artists have had their tunes updated by clever jazz acts during the past few years. It’s a strategy that often provides a refreshing twist while occasionally tilting towards novelty. Except for a pair of John Lennon pieces, Ben Allison has dodged this tack. After eight albums of original tune-smithing, he’s known as a composer as much as he is a bassist. But his latest Palmetto disc makes hay with six covers that ably illustrate the depth of his imagination. Leading a quintet he deems “an electro-acoustic orchestra,” Allison definitely fulfills on the “refraction” part of his album title.


It’s not only pop that gets re-spun. The disc begins with Thelonious Monk’s “Jackie-ing,” and includes Samuel Barber’s “St Ita’s Vision.” Both are bent to accommodate episodes of interplay. The former trades Monk’s esprit for something a tad more sober (you can thank Michael Blake’s bass clarinet), and the latter opens up to give Jason Lindner’s synth a chance to squiggle a bit. Each sets a reflective mood. In comparison, PJ Harvey’s “Missed” sounds like a jukebox hit. A grinding guitar riff, a thud of drums, and the quintet finds itself snaking down a dark alleyway. More impressionistic are Donny Hathaway’s “Some Day We’ll All Be Free,” which chugs through a sweet R&B groove and invites some fractious background fuzz to the party, and Neil Young’s “Philadelphia,” which waxes forlorn yet finds guitarist Steve Cardenas plucking pretty. But perhaps it’s the Carpenters’ “We Only Just Begun” that boasts the most creative arrangement. An itchy pulse rubs up against a languid melody and voila!, the schmaltz is now sophisticated – not unlike like what Cassandra Wilson did with “Last Train To Clarksville.” It’s this kind of ingenious magic that might make fans beg for Action-Refraction, Vol 2.



25 Jazz Albums That Just Might Make It To The “End of the Year” Lists – 2011 Edition

Every summer, around June 1 because that the anum’s half-way point, I’ve been taking the temperature vis a vis the records that will make the end-of-the-year lists. Which titles are vying for inclusion? Which are the definite front-runners? It’s an old link-baiting strat. We all love our horse races and we all love our listicles. Okay, so we’re a couple weeks late this month. Blame the busy June Jazz rush (which ain’t over yet).  Here are 25 discs that keep buzzing around my head. Wonder which will make the cut? Any you’d like to weigh in on? Sure there are…

Gerald Cleaver’s Uncle June,  Be It As I See It (Fresh Sound)

Walter/Halvorson/Evans, Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear)

Brad Mehldau, Live In Marciac (Nonesuch)

Noah Preminger, Before the Rain (Palmetto)

Orrin Evans, Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone)

Kermit Driscoll, Reveille (19/8)

Jeff “Tain” Watts, Family (Dark Keys)

Fred Hersch, Alone At the Vanguard (Palmetto)

Muhal Richard Abrams, Sound Dance (Pi)

Eric Harland, Voyager (Space Time)

JD Allen Trio, Victory! (Sunnyside)

Tim Berne, Insomnia (Clean Feed)

Colin Stetson, New History Warfare II (Constellation)

Russ Lossing Trio, Oracle (HatOLOGY)

Mostly Other People Do The Killing, The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed)

Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel (ECM)

Ben Allison, Action-Refraction (Palmetto)

Orchestre National de Jazz, Shut Up And Dance (Bee Jazz)

Jeremy Udden’s Plainville, If The Past Looks So Bright (Sunnyside)

BB&C, The Veil (Cryptogramophone)

Joe Lovano, Bird Songs (Blue Note)

Bruce Barth Trio, Live At Smalls (Smalls Live)

Konitz/Mehldau/Haden/Motion, Live at Birdland (ECM)

Black/Dunn/Noriega/Speed, Endangered Blood (Skirl)

Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)

Steve Coleman & Five Elements, The Mancy of Sound (Pi)

Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day II (Clean Feed)

Farmers By Nature, Out of This World’s Distortions (AUM Fidelity)

A visit to the comments section of A Blog Supreme’s mid-year litmus test reminded me that Joe Fiedler’s Sacred Chrome Orb (Yellow Sound) should be on the list above as well.

Searching, Restoring, Documenting, Dueting

One of the more fascinating fundraisers to come along of late takes place MONDAY night at 10 pm at Le Poisson Rouge. The Search & Restore team is hosting a cool concert of duets to support its inspired video documentary project which plans to film 200 New York jazz performances for posterity. This is no ordinary duet deal. It’s a round robin affair, with 22 improvisers participating. One player starts the cycle, and every five minutes another joins him, with the previous musician falling away. Reid Anderson, Matt Wilson, Hal Willner, Steven Bernstein, Roswell Rudd, Avishai Cohen, Henry Grimes, Dan Weiss, DJ Logic,  Jason Lindner, Ralph Alessi, Brandon Ross, Josh Roseman, Ben Allison, Christian McBride, Don Byron, Mark Guiliana, Theo Bleckman, Andrew D’Angelo, David Binney, Andy Milne, and Tim Lefebvre  are all in the mix. Who will interact with who? Uncertain. What is for sure is that S&R’s Adam Schatz is an inspired go-getter, one of the forces behind the Undead Jazz Festival and the upcoming Winter Jazz Festival. S&R,whose mission is to introduce modern improvising ensembles to a younger audience, has put on an array of impressive shows in NYC for a couple years now.  Check my Twitter feed for show updates (#hapboym).

Allison & Company: Sundays At Kush

Bassist/composer Ben Allison has reinstituted his informal Sunday night trio sessions that were so much fun a decade or so ago. The ever-changing cast (two guitarists one week, no guitarists the next, etc) is culled from the impressive squad that populates the bandleader’s “real” ensembles, so a certain chemistry is built-in from the start. Tonight it’s violinist Jenny Scheinman and trumpeter Shane Endsley who coordinate their moves with the boss. Should be nice to hear them drum up some grooves in this percussion-free affair at Kush on the LES. 7:30 & 9 pm,  $10.


“Buzz,” Medicine Wheel (Palmetto)

“A Day In the Life of Man Ray,” Third Eye (Palmetto)

“Slap Happy,” Peace Pipe (Palmetto)

“Emergency,” Cowboy Justice (Palmetto)

“Peace Pipe,” Think Free (Palmetto)

Newport Jazz: Listen On NPR

Missed the Fest? No You Didn’t!

Morning Song/Evening Song: Ben Allison

Another edition of our franchise that asks a musician what he or she listened to before bed and after awakening.  I’ve got requests out to several participants. Responses will float in during the next few weeks.

Ben Allison is a melody man. For the last decade the bassist/composer has written songs for his jazz ensembles to mess with, but regardless of how intricate or inspired their improv may be, it’s near impossible to shake off the essence of the tune they’re working. That’s called “catchiness.” With Think Free (Palmetto), one of 2009’s most striking discs, that thematic expertise comes to full fruition. The album is filled with the kind of pieces that stick around yr noggin for weeks. From “Green Al” to “Fred” (see above vid clip), Allison is refining his writing’s evocative nature. We nabbed him during a busy week for a guest blogger post in the Morning Song/Evening Song feature. Take it, B.


Trio of Doom – “Para Oriente”

It’s the band made up of John Mclaughlin (guitar), Jaco Pastorius (bass), Tony Williams (drums). Recorded live at the Havana Jam Festival in 1979, both the tune and performance put me in a good mood. It’s super funky, with a explosive grunge-like quality. And the dynamics are amazing. Tony Williams’ snare fills are like a Tommy gun. There’s a lot of space in between the notes that I really appreciate. I’ve also heard the studio version of this tune but think the live one hits in a better way. I wonder what Cuba was like in 1979? I imagine this festival was a career highlight for the musicians coming from the US.


PJ Harvey – “Man-Size”

I usually don’t listen to music at night, unless I’m at a concert or playing.  I prefer silence by the end of the day. But late in the afternoon, before I turn off the stereo, I’m usually into my most adventurous listening. Today it was this track from PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. Low and tight guitar part in an odd meter on one version, a string quartet on the other.  PJ’s punk rasp makes a strong statement. Psychotic, really. Cool mix, too.