It's tempting, in writing about Ben Allison, simply to reproduce Dan Oullette's April 2008 Downbeat profile in toto--or failing that, to quote from it extensively. Allison, says Oullette, is “leading a movement to create generationally relevant jazz.” He "stands at the forefront of a generation of young musicians who, steeped in the tradition, forge ahead with new modes of expression….[a place] where original music melds with social significance, where community identity trumps egocentricity and self-indulgence, where fresh standards resonate with the same emotional depth of the classic songbook." Of Allison's new album, Little Things Run the World, Oullette enthuses that it "promises to stand tall at the end of the year among the best CDs of 2008….[It] teems with an inspired edgy exuberance….Conceived with careful architectural attention and infused with myriad styles, including rock, pop, African, Americana and Latin, Allison’s cliché-free music has all the earmarks of jazz in motion to a higher evolutionary plateau."
Though Allison has played with everyone from alto legend Lee Konitz to avant fiddler Jenny Scheinman and is the regular bassist for Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, he's perhaps better known as a founder of the Jazz Composers Collective, a New York-based, musician-run non-profit dedicated to supporting creative new music. Between 1992 and 2004, the Collective produced over 100 concerts and events, including a long-running Composer-in-Residence program and an annual festival at the cutting-edge Jazz Standard. With fellow JCC member (and Maria Schneider Orchestra pianist) Frank Kimbrough, Allison also co-founded the Herbie Nichols Project, a band devoted to the memory and music of the brilliant but under-recorded pianist and composer.
Over the same period, Allison's own bands Medicine Wheel and Peace Pipe explored influences ranging from Mingus to Mali (Peace Pipe prominently featured kora virtuoso Mamadou Diabate), while his last two albums have made still deeper nods towards the music he heard growing up in the 60s and 70s: Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, John Lennon, "Bitches Brew," Burt Bacharach, TV and film scores of all kinds. ("He's not content to play grandpa's jazz," notes JazzCorner's Reese Erlich.) Critics and ordinary listeners alike have been mightily impressed: five of Allison's seven albums--including his latest, Little Things Run the World, whose title comes from biologist E.O. Wilson’s study of the invisible organisms that form the backbone of the ecosystem--have spent time atop the CMJ jazz charts, and Downbeat critics awarded him top honors in the "Rising Star Bassist" category in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Allison has long been associated with the progressive jazz scene, but lately he's been dropping cryptic hints about his progressive politics, too. His last album, Cowboy Justice, led off with a tongue-in-cheek tune called "Tricky Dick," a figure who's also evoked in the title of Allison's current band, Man Size Safe, which gives guitarist Steve Cardenas a leading role, alongside saxophonist Michael Blake and trumpeter Ron Horton. (Drummer Michael Sarin anchors the rhythm section.) “I’ve started to dabble in advocacy," Allison admits, "especially along the lines of alternative energy and renewable resources.” And yet, he cautions, "I don't want to use my music mainly as a platform. My main inspiration is to show by example what it means to cooperate, to celebrate this international art form that's about collaboration, peaceful interplay, and creative expression. That ties right into the biggest worldwide issues we face."
More Information on Ben Allison:
Tickets ($15 General
Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here
at our website, or
(after April 30th) at The Metro, People's Records, and The Works.
Ben Allison will also
present a FREE public workshop entitled "Composition and Improvisation: Two Sides of the Same Coin" on Friday, May 16th at 11:00 a.m. in the Studio Theater (Theatre Arts Room 115) on
the HSU campus.
Listen to an audio stream of music by Ben Allison by clicking on the "My Radio" icon below:
And read Wendy Butler's interview with Ben Allison here.