Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Overlooked Musician: Mose Allison

Known as the "Sage of Tippo", few musicians have melded jazz and blues in such a personal manner as pianist, songwriter and singer Mose Allison. As one of the most unique lyricists in jazz, it is interesting that more of Allison's compositions have not been embraced by the jazz and blues community. Rock musicians have had no trouble however, as musicians from The Who to Van Morrison have recorded Allison's songs. It may be that like fellow iconoclast Tom Waits, it will just take time for Allison's unique vision to catch on. His songs often take a wry look at modern life, eschewing the usual love song dynamic for a deeply philosophical outlook. Who else would have been courageous enough to pen a song entitled "Hello There, Universe" with lyrics neither too deep or too coy, but truly expressing awe at what he saw around him:

You can always count on me
And even though

The good gets better

And the bad gets worse

Hello there, Universe


Of course there is the sly Allison humor: skewing love, work and everything in between, it brings a much needed dose of levity to jazz lyrics which are often banal and one dimensional. His lyrics to "Your Mind is on Vacation" bear this out:

You quotin' figures and droppin' names
You
tellin' stories about the days
You're overlaughin' when things ain't funny
You
tryin' to sound like big money
You know if talk was criminal

You'd lead a life of crime

Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
workin' overtime

Allison began his career recording for Prestige in the early 1950's but had his greatest success during a fifteen year run at Atlantic Records, where he recorded some of his finest songs ranging from the humorous the the existential. He has since moved on to record for Blue Note Records from the late '80s to the present. Apart from his lyrics, his deeply percussive piano playing is fascinating, coming across as something of a hybrid of piano pounding bluesmen like Champion Jack Dupree and Pete Johnson combined with the complexity of Bud Powell. For those interested on exploring his music, the two-disc Rhino compilation Allison Wonderland makes for a great starting point, by collecting a fine cross section of his music and including a solid liner booklet. Deeper information can be found in Patti Jones' Allison biography One Man's Blues, published by Quartet Books.

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