The Jazz.com Blog
January 23, 2008 · 0 comments
Ben Allison is not your typical jazz composer. He claims that the bass-lines for the title song from his new CD Little Things Run the World – currently “Song of the Day” at jazz.com -- were inspired by Led Zeppelin. In other instances, he will cite Charles Mingus or Neil Young or Charlie Haden as influences.
Honestly, Allison does such a good job of incorporating his sources of inspiration into his own style and sound, that he could claim Yma Súmac and George Winston as his musical parents and I would still rush out to buy his CDs. The best things about this artist is not where his ideas come from, but what he does with them.
If you polled the experts to compile a list of the great jazz bassist-composers, the top two spots would be a lock – Charles Mingus and Dave Holland. Third place would be a tougher call, but with each new release, Allison makes a stronger case for his candidacy. Like Holland and Mingus, he writes songs that draw on the strengths of his musicians.
Despite what you may have head elsewhere, the path to success as a jazz composer is not putting lots of black dots on a page, but in creating a framework that spurs and prods the soloist into creating something fresh and interesting. Allison is able to do this with a frequency that is quite impressive. And I am even more impressed because the black dots on the page are sometimes fairly paltry in an Allison composition. There is not much tune in his tunes. Even so, he usually finds a clever angle to make his minimalist charts take life – and maybe with greater success because of the simplicity of his tools.
With eight recordings to his credit, released over the last fifteen years, Allison should no longer be a secret. He has won the Down Beat Rising Star award on bass so many times, you would think his bloody star had taken off into the stratosphere by now. But in the jazz world, where even great talent often leads lives of relative obscurity, Allison still contents himself with releases that sell a few thousand copies . . . and get great reviews. "For a jazz record — for any jazz record — if we sell over 10,000, we're all going out to lunch," Matt Balitsaris, owner of Palmetto Records which releases Allison’s music, recently told an interview. Maybe Allison’s new release, Little Things Run the World, will get him to the next level in popularity and earn everyone that much anticipated lunch.
All it would take is for a few Led Zeppelin fans to get on board.
This blog entry was posted by Ted Gioia.