If the bulk of recordings from the young lions that ambushed the jazz market during the past two decades had any of the creative spark that enlivens bassist/composer Ben Allison's remarkable debut, Seven Arrows, the on-going debate among jazz scholars would not be as pessimistic. Steeped in the jazz tradition, yet hardly embalmed by it, Allison uses his influences cunningly. Faint references to Miles Davis, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Nichols, Carla Bley and Thelonious Monk permeate throughout Allison's ardently orchestrated musings. But unlike many of his contemporaries, his musical influences do not get the best of him. Without falling into the trap of being overtly brash with contrived dissonance, asymmetrical weirdness, and blatant, yet ultimately unrewarding jabs of current musical trends (hip-hop and grunge immediately come to mind), Allison pens open-ended oundscapes with billowing thematic statements. But considering his credentials as the artistic director for The Jazz Composers Collective, a forward thinking forum that many jazz lions should have enrolled in before hooking up with the record executives, these wondrous compositions should come as no surprise.
From the opener, "Dragzilla," which features Allison contributing some of the set's most forceful solos, to the beautifully pensive "Little Boy," which recalls the isolating splendor of classic Miles, Seven Arrows definitely aims towards the future rather than the museum. "Cosmic Groove Slinky" is a masterful display of funky comping and sophisticated interplay as Allison grounds the activity with haunting, aquatic grooves, while saxophonist Ted Nash and trumpeter Ron Horton levitate effortlessly over Frank Kimbrough's sparse piano jabs and Tim Horner's tasteful drumming. Even when Allison's compositions are explicitly dedicated to an elder like the suspenseful Monk homage, "Delirioso," the composition still soars free of unnecessary baggage.
Seven Arrows will surely be viewed as a vital document from an important jazz composer in years to come.