Bassist and bandleader Ben Allison layers a lyric front line over roiling grooves | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Bassist and bandleader Ben Allison layers a lyric front line over roiling grooves 

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click to enlarge Ben Allison

Ben Allison

Cees van de Ven

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Ben Allison is one of the most deliberate and focused figures in jazz, a musician who conveys a clear-cut conception in everything he does. Over the years he’s led a wide variety of bands with shifting personnel, but whether through a lineup shuffle or a total overhaul of his stylistic framework, the sounds he shepherds change in sharp, satisfying ways. His forthcoming new quintet album, Layers of the City (Sonic Camera), is no exception. Allison leads pianist Frank Kimbrough, guitarist Steve Cardenas, drummer Allan Mednard, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt through an assortment of pensive, deeply considered postbop numbers that retain a measure of the pop-rock concision displayed on his guitar-driven 2013 album The Stars Look Very Different Today but also push in more challenging, elastic rhythmic directions. Featuring Allison on electric bass, “Enter the Dragon,” for example, opens with a taut, stuttering groove and a lockstep arrangement that convey a fusionlike feel up to about halfway through the track, when a steeplechase-like piano solo by Kimbrough throws the tune on its ass. Frenetic runs up and down the keyboard pull the rhythm section frantically along before Pelt and Cardenas gently return to the unison melody in the background, as though gathering up the rest of the band. And when they all return to the theme it’s nothing short of exhilarating, Mednard jacking up the tension and Pelt uncorking a fiery solo. In press materials Allison has explained that the album’s title is intended to be a reflection of the disparate juxtapositions and collisions of a big city—like New York, where he lives—and with its strong sense of space, shifting dynamics, and changing attacks, the title track certainly conveys that. Minus Kimbrough, the band from the record appears with the bassist.   v

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