"Leading a movement to create generationally relevant jazz."
—Dan Oullette, DownBeat
Okay, let’s start with some unabashed gushing: we love Ben Allison, and as good as it was to hear him in the company of Michael Blake the year before last, it’s been entirely too long—ten years!—since his last visit here as a leader. Allison’s tuneful, big-eared, forward-thinking compositions lured a couple of us back into jazz in the ’90s after we’d shamefully drifted away. We’ve been avidly listening to his records (13 as a leader, 3 more as one of the driving forces of the Herbie Nichols Project) for more than two decades now, and there’s not a weak one in the bunch. Action-Refraction was justly named one of the Best Albums of 2011 (of any genre) by NPR. His latest, Layers of the City—inspired by the myriad diversity of New York—brings an edgy maturity to Allison's cinematic sound.
The imprint of Allison’s adopted hometown shows up not only on this most recent album, but throughout his body of work. As one of the catalysts of jazz’s evolution over the last three decades, he’s drawn from a variety of musics in the melting pot. And it’s not just his oeuvre that's multi-flavored and multi-textured; his career is multi-layered, too. In his twenties, Allison co-founded the Jazz Composers Collective; more recently, he’s been a vocal advocate for artists’ rights in the digital age, even testifying before Congress. After a long run on the venerable indie Palmetto, he started his own label, Sonic Camera, where he serves as mixing engineer, graphic artist, and publicist as well as the star artist. His talents for organization are mirrored in his music, where Allison leads his groups with a gentle strength, supporting his bandmates as much as guiding them, writing with their voices in mind, and deferring to them as improvisers rather than claiming the floor for himself.
Think Free’s members are right on Allison’s wavelength. Rising-star cornetist Kirk Knuffke, who ably fills in for Layers of the City’s Jeremy Pelt, is a frequent collaborator with such bandleaders (and RJA alumni) as Matt Wilson and Allison Miller; anyone lucky enough to catch either of his local appearances back in 2016 (with Miller's Boom Tic Boom and/or with bassist Michael Bisio) will be excited for his return. Steve Cardenas’s guitar is integral not only to the sound of Ben Allison’s last seven records, but also those of the Steve Swallow Quintet, John Patitucci’s Electric Guitar Quartet, and the late Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band. Fresh face Allan Mednard is an adroit and versatile drummer who currently plays in groups led by Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Parks, Ben Street, and many more.
Together this skilled coalition of craftsmen builds a diverse sonic universe on top of Allison’s foundation, and their inspired performances reflect his larger blueprint. The title of Allison’s 2008 release, Little Things Run the World, comes from biologist E.O. Wilson’s description of the importance of microorganisms to an ecosystem. “My main inspiration,” says Allison, “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.” And so, from his political advocacy down to his sonic roots, Allison organizes the larger structures under which those most magical of communal moments thrive, fostering the development of egalitarian experimentation that marks this music.
Tickets ($15 General
Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here
at our website and at People's Records, Wildwood Music, Wildberries, and The Works.
Ben Allison and Think Free will also
present an open, pre-concert public workshop at 11 a.m. on Monday, February 19th in Music 131 (across the walkway from Fulkerson Recital Hall). People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.