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Ben Allison: Think Free

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Ben Allison

If you listened only to the first and final tracks of bassist-composer Ben Allison’s new album, Think Free, you might have good reason to assume that Allison-who has experimented with more chamber-esque music in the past-is in hot pursuit of a new pop-jazz aesthetic for the ’00s. The opener, “Fred,” proceeds over a pleasing backbeat with a tune of bittersweet cheer and pop-hook-like charm, laid out in savory textures by violinist Jenny Scheinman and trumpeter Shane Endsley. To close the album, “Green Al” is, as you might surmise from the title, a sly, soul-ish song, with winking quotes from John Barry’s haunting “Midnight Cowboy” theme.

Alas, those bookends are actually deceptively straight items on a project full of left turns, funny metric math problems, and harmonic and structural sensibilities that complicate the pop factor (even though that factor hovers over the project’s entirety). More progressive notions filter into the album’s mix starting with track two, “Platypus,” marked by the intricate 7/8 groove of drummer Rudy Royston, or the floating and dislodging rhythmic feels on “Sleeping Giant,” which also features an inventive solo-with and without a mute-by Endsley.

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