Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel


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The Buzz on experimental-minded bassist Ben Allison is all good, as (among numerous accolades) he'd been cited by Downbeat Magazine as one of "25 rising jazz stars for the future" and was selected in various categories in its critics poll as a talent deserving wider recognition. His 2002 disc Peace Pipe challenged mainstream jazz limitations by blending in hip-hop and African rhythms, and Buzz keeps the invention hopping -- sometimes that means pleasing a listener's sense of cool rhythm, other times defying gravity and reason a bit too much. Allison, working with his band of three multiple horn players, keys, and drums, is full of surprises, sometimes in mid-song. For nearly three minutes, the opening cut, "Respiration," plods along a moody, laid-back, horn-spiced path that sometimes borders on atonal; then fortunately, Allison gets into a funky blues mood and Frank Kimbrough's playful piano melody takes over, with Allison's bouncy bass and Michael Sarin's drums kicking in way offbeat. The eclectic, rhythmically off-center, and brass-punched title track really takes the idea of experimentation to the limit; Allison wraps seed pods around the strings of his bass, while Kimbrough sticks pennies and paper clips between piano strings. "Mauritania" combines a more consistent rhythm scheme with rising horns wrapped around Ted Nash's fluttering flute. The disc will appeal more or less to avant-garde jazz fans, who probably won't object to a meandering take on "Across the Universe" that seems to take as much time as a real trip.

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