On a casual listen, bassist Ben Allison’s Moments Inside doesn’t differ temperamentally from its predecessor, 2018’s Quiet Revolution; both offer serene music with intricate complexity just below the surface. Yet the inspiration for the new recording is entirely different. Quiet Revolution looked back to the classic Jimmy Giuffre/Jim Hall sessions of the early ’60s, but Moments Inside dotes on a different set of cornerstone music: the legendary Brazilian sounds of Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina, and many others. Allison told me that the inspiration came from their close attention to lyrical melody.
He assembled an unusual two-guitar lineup featuring Steve Cardenas and Chico Pinheiro plus drummer Alan Mednard. The instrumentation is the same as Allison employed on his 2013 release The Stars Look Different Tonight, but the music here is quieter. This result surprised Allison, as he wrote much of it during the pandemic. But rather than anguished, the music was sweetly hopeful.
Moments Inside begins with “Safe Passage,” a bright, mid-tempo tune with sunny guitar lines and a tensile rhythmic foundation. “The Chase” is more propulsive and driven but without breaking the warm spring-day vibe of the recording. “Milton” is of course a dedication to Nascimento, though in a recent performance at Birdland, an audience member asked if it was an ode to the economist Milton Friedman. A less obvious shoutout is “Breakfast with Eric,” which gently echoes Dolphy’s classic “Hat and Beard” and features knotty intertwining guitar lines. Allison revisits his history with the Jazz Composers Collective on Herbie Nichols’ “House Party Starting.” It demonstrates that he’s always moving forward but never at the expense of his past.