Friday, April 22, 2011

Ben Allison – Action-Refraction (Palmetto Records, 2011)

Bassist and composer Ben Allison has been at the forefront of the modern jazz scene as a band leader and the driving force behind the (now sadly defunct) Jazz Composers Collective and Herbie Nichols Project. Although widely respected as a composer, on this album he turns the tables, covering the music of other artists for the most part, and including aspects of progressive rock into his palette. He is accompanied on this album by Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Jason Lindner on synthesizer and piano and Rudy Royston on drums. Opening up with Thelonious Monk's “Jackie-ing” the group slowly develops an ominous melody around saxophone and electric guitar with rock-ish drums building to a strong full band climax. Strong drums and guitar lock in on “Missed” with Blake’s saxophone developing a personal sandpaper toned feel. The group develops a dynamic loud/soft dynamic (akin to Ahmad Jamal, or Nirvana for that matter) that comes to a hard conclusion. “Someday We’ll All Be Free” is spacious and open with electric piano over slow building saxophone and drums. Guitar undercurrents build under the saxophone in a subversive manner, before the band builds deeply around a repetitive saxophone riff. Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” is taken at a slow, mournful tempo with just guitar, bass and drums, while “St. Ida’s Vision” changes the game completely with slow bass and moody synthesizer creating a weird musical atmosphere. The unusual mix of bass, drums and synth hints at progressive rock as well as modern classical music. The Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” seems and odd choice for a jazz album, but it really works quite well as a feature for Michael Blake, whose unique tone and musical vision allow him to use the melodic material at hand to develop a strong solo statement. Royston shines too with excellent support on drums as the music alternates between funky and near-free. The band closes the album with the sole Allison original, “Broken,” which has Linder again return to synthesizer for arrangement and texture around a swirling guitar and drum vamp. Action-Refraction -

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