Peace Pipe signals a change of direction for bassist/composer Ben Allison, as he moves away from Medicine Wheel and toward a leaner, more eclectic (if that's possible) ensemble featuring Malian kora virtuoso Mamadou Diabate. The juxtaposition of African and Western instruments could lead some to peg this as "world" music, but Allison is too irrepressibly original to be squeezed into a marketing niche. By bringing Diabate into contact with Medicine Wheel regulars Michael Blake, Frank Kimbrough, and Michael Sarin, Allison simply does what he always does, i.e., pushes his writing into fresh, unexplored areas. (Tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and Medicine Wheel cellist Tomas Ulrich appear as guests along the way.) In general, the harmonies are more static, the textural combinations more stark, the grooves moodier and a bit more mellow. "Mantra," the finale, illustrates Allison's new thinking with exceptional clarity. The tune moved at a bouncier clip when it first appeared on Medicine Wheel's Third Eye album in 1999; here it's several notches slower, allowing listeners to savor the splendid melody of the B section, which is now arguably an A section. Diabate's quicksilver kora lines underscore Sarin's solo on the double-time portion. What could have come across as recycled material instead represents a sort of rebirth. Diabate also appears on the first two tracks, "Third Rail" and "Slap Happy," as well as his own "Dakan" and a short, freely improvised bass/kora duet called "Music Is Music." Allison foregrounds the kora-less quartet on the title cut, which features positively brilliant work by Blake and Kimbrough. Other quartet pieces include the grandly funky "Disposable Genius" (the theme of NPR's On the Media) and the steadily swinging "Realization," far and away the most jazz-oriented track. But looking well beyond jazz for inspiration, Allison also covers Neil Young's "Goin' Back."
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AllMusic Review by David R. Adler