Ben Allison, Action-Refraction

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.12.11 in Reviews


Ben Allison
An interesting, innovative departure with a wider range than you first realize

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.