Ben_allison_and_medicine_wheel-third_eye_span3
December 1999

Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel
Third Eye
Palmetto Records

Bassist-composer Allison continues to provide a thoughtful, challenging outlet for his against-the-grain colleagues and kindred spirits in Medicine Wheel. Each member of this intriguing ensemble that operates in and around New York's downtown alternative jazz scene is an exceptional improviser, composer and bandleader in his own right as well as a member of the Jazz Composer's Collective, a musician-run composers forum which Allison founded.

Part sound alchemist, part romanticist, part world music enthusiast, part renegade jazzbo, Allison's music on this second Medicine Wheel project strikes a wonderful balance between form and freedom, allowing for plenty of stretching within the confines of his richly appointed, often provocative material.

Opening on a texturally grooving note with "Four Folk Songs," Allison achieves a mesmerizing kalimba-like sound by playing on the other side of the bridge of the bass while pianist Frank Kimbrough bows the strings of his piano with fishing line. Michael Blake solos on soprano with a buttery smooth tone and slightly subversive intentions here. The melancholy ballad "Random Sex and Violins" is a beautiful showcase for the lyrical flugelhorn of Ron Horton and is underscored by ultra-sensitive brushwork from drummer Jeff Ballad. The Middle Eastern flavored "Kush" pairs Allison on de-tuned guitar with Ara Dinkjian on oud. "A Life in the Day of Man Ray," a relaxed, harmonically lush groover based on Billy Strayhorn's "Azure," provides the bassist with a platform for his less-is-more approach to the instrument while the sparse, ECM-ish "Andrew" is buoyed by Tomas Ulrich's rich cello lines and Frank Kimbrough's crytalline touch on piano. The whole ensemble swings urgently on the frantic "Hot Head" then takes a slacker's approach to time on the rubato closer, "Pot Head."

Originally published in December 1999
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