Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel

Third Eye

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In the 1990s, Ben Allison was among the young jazz musicians who insisted on keeping his options open -- he refused to confine himself to any one style of jazz, and he certainly didn't buy into the notion that improvisers were obligated to limit themselves to hard bop versions of overdone standards. The acoustic bassist favors a post-bop/avant-garde setting on Third Eye, which was his third album as a leader and his second with his band Medicine Wheel. Allison and his sidemen aren't afraid to venture into outside playing when it's appropriate, but most of the time, they remain inside. Except for Herbie Nichols' "Love Is Proximity" (a gem that the late pianist wrote but never recorded), all of the songs are Allison originals. Many of them underscore his enthusiasm for Middle Eastern music, including "Mantra," "A Life in the Day of Man Ray" and "Kush," which was named after a Manhattan bar that Allison co-owned. The ballad "Andrew" is as haunting as it is melancholy, while the intense "Hot Head" expresses a lot of anger. Allison is joined by saxmen/bass clarinetists Michael Blake and Ted Nash, trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron Horton, pianist Frank Kimbrough, cellist Tomas Ulrich, oud player Ara Dinkjian (the oud is an Arabic lute) and drummer Jeff Ballard, all of whom do their part to make Third Eye an album that is cohesive yet delightfully unpredictable.

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