Bassist Ben Allison's first recorded collection of cover tunes retains his mischievous spirit: Despite the inclusion of Monk's "Jackie-ing," the most straight-ahead jazz here is a bumpity rendition of the Carpenters' saccharine classic "We've Only Just Begun," which adroitly exaggerates the rhythmic changes in the crooning chorus, promotes harsh accents in the verse sections and then rides a free-spirited sax solo from Michael Blake. Other tracks emphasize atmosphere and texture, less prog-rock than burbling electronica-jazz. Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" and Allison's closer, "Broken" (the lone original) scuff an otherwise impassive ambiance, marked off by stoic chords, with grainy effects, like sand in a cement mixer, courtesy of two guitarists (longtime Allison cohort Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook) and the analog synthesizer of Jason Lindner. By contrast, on Samuel Barber's "St. Ida's Vision," Lindner's keyboard takes on the rich resonance of an organ. Allison's bass work is spare but incisive throughout. This isn't his best record, but an interesting, innovative departure, with a wider range — from pensive balladry to quirky rock — than you first realize.
By Britt Robson on 02.03.14 in Reviews
Composer-bassist Ben Allison loves to tweak conventions and play on the margins of genre, but he never sacrifices listener accessibility. On The Stars Look Very Different Today, that means churning up a spectral, sci-fi...
By Britt Robson on 01.04.13 in Reviews
Union Square is like that shy, cute guy or girl who was easy to overlook in class or at the office, until a chance extended encounter revealed them to be smart, incisive and charmingly modest. All three members of this t...
By Wondering Sound Staff on 12.26.11 in Lists
It was a year full of surprising breakouts and breathtaking discoveries, with reliable favorites from familiar faces and strong entries from new voices. These are our Top 100 Records of 2011.
By Britt Robson on 09.17.06 in Reviews
"With Medicine Wheel we did four records and I think the third was maybe our best, the way the sound and compositions coalesced," Ben Allison said to me about Riding the Nuclear Tiger. Indeed, these nine songs document a...