Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ben Allison - The Stars Look Very Different Today (Sonic Camera Records, 2013)

Taking inspiration from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” allows bassist and composer Ben Allison to build a unique group that improvises like a jazz ensemble, has the volume of a rock band, and the ability to vary texture and hue that suggests something else entirely. Along with Allison on bass, he has a twin guitar lineup of Brandon Seabrook and Steve Cardenas and Allison Miller on drums. Each of the musicians has a wide range of experience in playing music of all kinds and that sense of openness benefits the music greatly. “D.A.V.E.” opens the album with finely integrated ensemble playing. Referencing the deadly computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the song has a decidedly modern flair. The idea of “song” is really the hallmark of Allison led ensembles, where each performance on the album is a self-contained entity, modules of music that add up to a cohesive whole when seen on a wider scale. “The Ballad of Joe Buck” was inspired by cinema and the melody came to Allison in a burst of inspiration. The use of banjo along with guitar gives the song a rootsier feel and an earthy, dusty bent. “Kick It, Man” shows the group moving into a higher gear, with guitars spiraling and the bass and drums tightly locked in. The buzzing and burning music that develops shows the band at its most progressive. A reprise from an earlier album, “Swiss Cheese D” gives the band the chance to push the envelope further without losing sight of the song form or the groove. This is a milestone for Allison who has been in subtle shifts been moving away from the “jazz” tag into something more personal. In a sense, it is not the destination that matters, but the journey that he has taken over the past several albums that is paying excellent dividends. The Stars Look Very Different Today - amazon.com

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