Ben Allison, Michael Blake, Rudy Royston, Union Square

Britt Robson

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 trio are well established in the jazz firmament and typically push their projects into a higher profile. But here they embark on 10 collaborative originals with no guest stars, studio effects or attendant hype. Their music unfurling patiently with assured aplomb, so that the net effect is greater than the sum of their parts — both within each tune and in the overall collection.

The net effect is greater than the sum of their parts

My favorite tracks are the two in the middle. On “Big Smile,” Blake’s soprano sax is tonally and texturally contrasted with Royston’s tom-tom beats, with Allison’s bass neatly wedged in. “Wig Wise” opens with glazed, metronomic cymbals from Royston, Allison’s adds to the toe-tapping groove and Blake, again on soprano, gradually ups the intensity. Elsewhere, “Flapper” has got a little of the madcap, Roaring ’20s in its agile interplay, “Compassion” is, not surprisingly, the most plaintive and vulnerable tune on the disc, and the closing “Freedom From Exile” has what sounds like a low-drone bass clarinet from Blake (though it could be Allison on arco) resolving into a defiant breakthrough. But there is something to recommend on every track.

The scant press materials take pains to point out that Union Square is also a locus of political activity for Occupy Wall Street and the gay rights movement in New York. This recording avoids slogans and heavy postures, but performs enough good musical deeds to prove its heart is in the right place.