DESERT ISLAND DOZENS: BEN ALLISON by Eric Novod (editor)

Ben Allison, recently featured in an interview and concert review on jazz.com, now participates in our “Desert Island Dozens” feature. The ground rules are simple: we invite the best jazz artists of today to riff on twelve of their favorite tracks.



                          Ben Allison, photo by Tom Greenland

As the “founder, artistic director, and Composer-In-Residence” of the non-profit Jazz Composers Collective (1992-2005), Allison has played a vital role in developing the lively NYC jazz scene of the past 15+ years. Beside contributing multiple compositions to the Collective himself, Allison brought artists such as Michael Blake, Frank Kimbrough, Ted Nash, Ron Horton, Kevin Hays, Ethan Iverson, and Vijay Iyer and on board as either Composers-In-Residence or Guest Composers – all of whom are still active in the NYC jazz scene today. A complete list of musicians, along with a detailed description of the work of the Collective can be found here.

In this installment of “Desert Island Dozens,” Ben Allison focuses on tracks that reflect the same fertile intersection of composition and improvisation that has characterized Allison’s own personal style. There are a few classic choices, a lot of new-to-jazz.com-rarities, and an all-too-infrequent opportunity to highlight the history of the bassist/composer throughout the history of jazz. Finally, through Allison’s twelve choices, he implicitly suggests that a deep knowledge of jazz history combined with the incorporation of other musical styles (here: folk, rock, ska) greatly enhance the breadth of compositional and improvisational possibilities available to the modern jazz musician.


Ornette Coleman: What Reason Could I Give?

Track

What Reason Could I Give?

Artist

Ornette Coleman (alto sax, trumpet, violin)

CD

Science Fiction (Columbia KC 31061)

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Musicians:

Ornette Coleman (alto sax, trumpet, violin), Dewey Redman (tenor sax), Charlie Haden (bass), Billy Higgins (drums), Ed Blackwell (drums),

Asha Puthli (vocals), Carmon Fornarotto, Gerard Schwarg (trumpets)

.

Composed by Ornette Coleman

.

Recorded: New York, October 13, 1971

Albumcoverornettecoleman-thecompletesciencefictionsessions

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Ornette Coleman's groups in the 1960s and early '70s that included Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, Dewey Redman and others were pivotal to me as a musician in that they seemed to bridge the gap between my early love of folk and rock with the more abstract and highly improvisational elements of jazz. There's a folksy quality to Ornette's music that seems to reflect the early days of jazz – when the music was guttural and instrumentalists played lyrical melodies with voice-like tones. On Science Fiction, he used the studio as an instrument, more so than on many of his previous albums. This tune incorporates vocals (from Asha Puthli) in a seamless way. It takes guts to envision this kind of music.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Keith Jarrett: Rotation

Track

Rotation

Artist

Keith Jarrett (piano, Pakistani flute, percussion)

CD

Mysteries (Impulse 9315)

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Musicians:

Keith Jarrett (piano, Pakistani flute, percussion), Dewey Redman (tenor sax, musette, maracas), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums, percussion),

Guilherme Franco (percussion)

.

Composed by Keith Jarrett

.

Recorded: New York, June 1975

Albumcoverkeithjarrett-mysteries

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

To my ears, Keith Jarrett's American Quartet, which featured Jarrett, Redman, Haden and Motian and played throughout the first half of the 1970s, took some of the musical concepts pioneered by Ornette Coleman and brought them to new places. There's a free-flowing, organic quality to this music that had a huge influence on my approach to composition and group improvisation.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Thelonious Monk: Rhythm-a-Ning

Track

Rhythm-a-Ning

Artist

Thelonious Monk (piano)

CD

Thelonious in Action – Live at the Five Spot (Riverside 12-262)

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Musicians:

Thelonious Monk (piano), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Ahmed Abdul-Malik (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

.

Recorded: live at the Five Spot Café, New York, August 7, 1958

Albumcovertheloniousmonk-theloniousinaction

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Monk had a huge influence on me as a composer and player. This album gives us some insight into what it might have been like to hear him play live. I never had the chance. Although not one of my favorite tunes (considering the depth and genius of his catalog), this track highlights some of music's most brilliant artists throwing down in a little club. A treasured peek into jazz history.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Miles Davis: Helen Butte / Mr. Freedom X

Track

Helen Butte / Mr. Freedom X

Artist

Miles Davis (trumpet)

CD

On the Corner (Columbia 31906)

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Musicians:

Miles Davis (trumpet), Chick Corea (electric piano), Herbie Hancock (electric piano, synthesizer), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Al Foster (drums), Billy Hart (drums),

Carlos Garnett (tenor sax), Harold Williams (organ, synthesizer), Collin Walcott (electric sitar), David Creamer (electric guitar), Michael Henderson (electric bass), Badal Roy (tabla)

.

Composed by Miles Davis

.

Recorded: New York, June 6, 1972

Albumcovermilesdavis-onthecorner

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Miles Davis reinvented himself with each new group that he led. I hear On the Corner as a distillation of the funk and rock music of the day (Sly Stone, Beatles, etc.) as seen through the lens of a restless experimentalist. For some Miles fans, this was a throwaway album at best, a rude "#$%@ you" at worst. I hear it as a celebration.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Duke Ellington & John Coltrane: In a Sentimental Mood

Track

In a Sentimental Mood

Artist

Duke Ellington (piano) and John Coltrane (tenor sax)

CD

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse 166)

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Musicians:

Duke Ellington (piano), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Aaron Bell (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Duke Ellington

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 26, 1962

Albumcoverdukeellingtonandjohncoltrane

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Duke Ellington was one of the most influential composers and bandleaders of the 20th century. In this small group setting, you really get to hear his incredible piano playing, for which he is sometimes not given due credit. Always the arranger, Duke's piano motif at the beginning, with Aaron Bell up high, is one of the most stirring intros of all time.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Charles Mingus: Original Faubus Fables

Track

Original Faubus Fables

Artist

CD

Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (Candid CD 9005)

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Musicians:

Charles Mingus (bass), Eric Dolphy (alto sax), Ted Curson (trumpet), Dannie Richmond (drums).

Recorded: New York, October 20, 1960

Albumcoverminguspmingus

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Everyone on my "Desert Island Dozens" list (Ellington, Coleman, Jarrett, Haden, Davis, Monk, Hill, Holland, Rollins) is a bandleader and composer who focused on original music and expanding his vocabulary, often pushing the boundaries of the jazz language in the process. Mingus is certainly no exception. In the way that Jarrett built off Coleman's music, I hear Mingus as taking cues from Duke Ellington and spinning out his own brand of multifaceted music, well suited to the sophisticated urban jungle of New York City.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


The Tony Williams Lifetime: This Night This Song

Track

This Night This Song

Group

The Tony Williams Lifetime

CD

Turn it Over (Polydor 244021)

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Musicians:

Tony Williams (drums, vocals), Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) (organ), John McLaughlin (guitar, vocals), Jack Bruce (bass, vocals).

Composed by Tony Williams

.

Recorded: New York, 1970

Albumcovertonywilliamslifetime-turnitover

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is the kind of weirdness I love. It's a great statement by polished, highly skilled musicians, including Cream's Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. McLaughlin and Young, alumni of the first Tony Williams Lifetime recording, Emergency!, complete this influential fusion lineup. This is a great example of fine musicians stepping out and getting strange with an aggressive rock sensibility. I feel liberated listening to this album.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Andrew Hill: Black Fire

Track

Black Fire

Artist

Andrew Hill (piano)

CD

Black Fire (Blue Note 96501)

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Musicians:

Andrew Hill (piano), Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Richard Davis (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).

Composed by Andrew Hill

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, November 9, 1963

Albumcoverandrewhill-blackfire

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Andrew Hill ranks among the most original composers and pianists of his day and, indeed, the 20th century. Like so many of the great jazz composers, his playing and compositions are completely intertwined, one being an extension of the other.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Sonny Rollins: Without a Song

Track

Without a Song

Artist

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax)

CD

The Bridge (RCA Victor 09026-68518-2)

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Musicians:

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Jim Hall (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Ben Riley (drums).

Composed by Edward Eliscu, Billy Rose & Vincent Youmans

.

Recorded: New York, February 13, 1962

Albumcoversonnyrollins-thebridge

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Sonny Rollins is remarkable because of the effortless way his ideas flow and develop. The interplay between him and Jim Hall on this album is truly great to hear. And his story of self-imposed exile is provocative. This album marked his return to public performance.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Charlie Haden: Turnaround

Track

Turnaround

Artist

Charlie Haden (bass)

CD

Golden Number (Horizon 26)

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Musicians:

Charlie Haden (bass), Hampton Hawes (piano).

Composed by Ornette Coleman

.

Recorded: Los Angeles, August 21, 1976

Albumcovercharliehaden-goldennumber

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This recording was my first exposure to Hampton Hawes, who, in my opinion, was one of the most swinging pianists of all time. Here Hawes plays in an uncharacteristically free-groove way, but he's still steeped in the blues. As so often, it's about interplay. Charlie and Hampton reach a special place on this cut.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Dave Holland: Homecoming

Track

Homecoming

Artist

Dave Holland (bass)

CD

Seeds of Time (ECM 1292)

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Musicians:

Dave Holland (bass), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Steve Coleman (alto sax), Julian Priester (trombone), Marvin 'Smitty' Smith (drums).

Composed by Dave Holland

.

Recorded: Ludwigsburg, Germany, November, 1984

Albumcoverdaveholland-seedsoftime

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

I'm a huge fan of Dave Holland as a bassist/composer and bandleader. To me, he exemplifies what can happen to musical statements when they're guided by a bassist. There's a lyricism that evokes a folk-like quality in much of the playing on this album. Hugely influential to me in my formative years as a bassist/ composer.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


Roland Al and The Soul Brothers: Dr. Ring-A-Ding

Track

Dr. Ring-A-Ding

Group

Roland Al and The Soul Brothers

CD

More Intensified: Original Ska 1963-1967, Vol. 2 (Mango 9597)

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Musicians:

Roland Alphonso (tenor sax),

Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Jackie Mittoo (organ), unidentified rhythm section

.

Composed by Roland Alphonso, Clement Dodd & J. Moore

.

Recorded: Kingston, Jamaica, 1966

Albumcovermoreintensified_-volumetwo-originalska1963-67

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Ska was heavily influenced by American jazz and R&B, and Roland Alphonso brought a coolness and sophistication to many ska sessions in the mid-1960s. I listened to a lot of ska back in high school, at a time in my life when I had not heard much jazz. So you could say that in a roundabout way, it was through Roland Alphonso that I was first exposed to some of the concepts and sounds of jazz saxophone.

Reviewer: Ben Allison (for Desert Island Dozens)


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