Friday, January 24, 2014

Violinist/Composer Dana Lyn's Aqualude: An Aquatic Adventure

The violinist/composer Dana Lyn is a Brooklyn based musician who late last year released a genre defying album titled  Aqualude, a musical suite of compositions that tell a story of a fantastical aquatic adventure with an underlying environmental message.  This instrumental suite combines rock rhythms and jazz-like improvisations with chamber music instrumentation. For lack of categorization some have labeled it Disney on crack.

 The music follows the adventures of a mythical boy who is magically transported through a whimsical undersea adventure, an Aqualude. The journey sets out on land in a Glacial territory that is showing signs of warming. A boy is thrown into the water by agitated flying carp. This unexpected journey requires no oxygen apparatus and  turns into an underwater fantasy becoming  an  amusement park-like diorama  complete with images of an albino mother octopus  judiciously protecting its eggs,  a magical branch ( given to him by the Octopus)  that allows the boy access to the an underwater cavern and  an encounter with a white whale that takes the boy on its back, diving to darkest depths of the ocean. The boy experiences a unique menagerie of fascinatingly diverse aquatic animals that he views while riding on a living carpet of near transparent Yeti crabs.

Composer/violinist Dana Lyn

 The allegory in Ms. Lyn’s work interrupts this otherwise playful journey, when the boy ultimately comes across an unsettling discovery; the existence of a robotic powered, man-made, energy generating machine at the ocean floor. The strangely out of place apparatus clandestinely disrupts the natural order of things in the ocean, causing unwelcome and life threatening consequences both underwater and on the earth above. The thermal energy generated by the machine jettisons the boy to the surface where he is eventually re-united with his distraught family. The boy has been permanently changed by his journey, whether it was real or imagined. He realizes he has unfinished business. He has been given a gift of understanding- presumably about the conspiratorial nature of greedy energy companies and their blatant misuse of natural resources-and he must take this enlightenment and use it for the greater good.  Was Ms. Lyn commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace one might ask?

Angel Door

This moralistic tale is played out musically by Ms. Lyn and her fellow musicians Jonathan Goldberger on guitars, Clara Kennedy on cello, Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Ms. Lyn skillfully composes the music that creates an aural image of the story she is relating. The rock orientated drum-driven frenzy of the flying fish in “Carping,” the loping chamber-like cello sounds of Clara Kennedy representing  the aging octopus, the sound of being suspended in the bubbling waters created beautifully by Ms. Lyn on violin and Mr. Goldberger’s electric guitar, all on ”Mother Octopus.” A fascinating study in how music can shape images in our minds.  

The music often mimics a sense of being emerged in the ocean’s depths, conveying a sense of being suspended from reality. Is this really happening or is it merely a fantastic dream? One can only imagine listening to this music under the influence of some psychotropic drug. 

The most identifiable melody in the suite is the “Yeti Crab Theme Song.”  The music starts out with Ms. Lyn on an instrument called an Angel Door. It is a musical sculpture piece, the creation of Shelby and Latham Gaines, a stringed instrument created by modifying an old wooden door and fitting it with strings. Originally made on commission from the actor/director Ethan Hawke for a play Clive, the sound it creates has an old music box quality. Mr. Goldberger plays an echo enhanced guitar ostinato over which Mr. McGinnis floats the buoyant sounds of his clarinet. Ms. Lyn and Ms. Kennedy weave intricate patterns with their strings as Mr. Sperrazza keeps the cadence of a muted march in the background. 

The first “Aqualude” (oddly there are two compositions with this title) is a short piece that feels like you are descending deep into the ocean in some enclosed diving bell. This leads into “Pyramid”  where the man-made, automaton-operated machine is discovered. Ms. Lyn and company create a sense of climax through a series of spiraling and ever ascending notes played in unison with her band. The boy returns to the surface on “The Snow in General” and is reunited with his family on the second “Aqualude,”  a somber piece of music that has the sound of a distant horn, a beacon leading you  out of a dense fog. The boy shares his new found knowledge with his family. The knowledge curiously supersedes any robust feeling of joy over his fortuitous return. The suite ends with “Yeti Sleeps” a poignantly played piece that has a melancholy flavor. The boy has an unsettling restlessness from his new found discovery. Was the voyage real or imagined?  Is his discovery of the dreaded machine something that requires his action?

Labels are pointless in music as each artist has a right to explore all possibilities wherever inspiration may take them with no regard to how it fits into some predetermined schema. Ms. Lyn has disregarded labels to tell a fantasy, an aquatic adventure that she has chosen as a vehicle to somehow speak to a greater problem, global warming. For the most part her efforts are a success. But the pairing of the fantasy and the message seem incongruous. Disney meets Exxon? Ms Lyn excels at instrumentally creating an aural underwater world of wonder and beauty. But when she attempts to attach a moralistic message to this fantasy her otherwise beautiful music seems to be insufficiently evocative in its musical portrayal of the real menace.
 Here is a you tube sample of Dana Lyn's violin work with Guitarist Kyle Sanna:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Michael Blake's World Time Zone Plays his latest work "Contrasts in Indivdualism" at the Kitano

Michael Blake at the Kitano

On a Thursday night at the elegant Kitano Jazz club in Manhattan the saxophonist Michael Blake premiered his latest work Contrasts in Individualism,”  a series of compositions inspired by two of the twentieth century’s most influential pre-bop tenor men, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

Mr. Blake, a Canadian born in Montreal and raised in Vancouver, Canada, has made New York his home since 1986. The mild- mannered musician has been playing with some of the most progressive musicians on the scene as a member of John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, Ben Allison’s Medicine Wheel, The Herbie Nichols Project, Steven Bernstein’s  Millennial Territory Orchestra, and the progressive instrumental  group Slow Poke with Dave Tronzo, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, along with several self-led groups.  

In a world littered with saxophonists who prefer to play a fusillade of notes to express their ideas, Michael Blake has refreshingly chosen to follow a more measured approach.  As a student of the pre-bop masters Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and predecessors in their lineage, Mr. Blake has a developed a style that incorporates many of the techniques that made them so unique, combining them with his own signature sound that has been strongly influenced by soul, funk, rhythm and blues and rock. The result is a unique voice on the instrument that plays with conviction that is refreshingly free from pyrotechnics or affectation.  An accomplished technician, Mr. Blake is comfortable playing at those difficult slow tempos that often can require holding a note with pristine intonation or uttering a gut bucket growl to make a point. That’s not to say the man can’t swing or dazzle, his tenor can flow like a spring-fed mountain stream occasionally bursting into fast paced waves of swirling eddy currents. Having been touted as an up and coming voice on tenor saxophone for quite a while it’s time to acknowledge that Michael Blake is one of the leading proponents of the instrument today. He debuted this music with his all-star band  World Time Zone which features Ben Allison on bass, Frank Kimbrough on piano and Rudy Royston on drums.

Mr. Blake’s compositional skills were on display with Contrast in Individualism, a commission made possible by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Trust. Comparing and contrasting two iconic players like Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young could be a daunting task for any saxophonist.  Mr. Blake’s told the audience that his own approach was to share what he loved about their music through his own contemporary lens.

The set started out with a song titled “Skinny Dip” a slow, strip club like shuffle that featured some pointillist bass lines by Ben Allison and some raspy Hawk-inspired playing by Blake. His escalating tenor solo built in measured crescendos with tasty licks that had a very sensuous side to them.  Mr. Kimbrough took a solo spot that was contrastingly more jagged but steeped in the blues. Mr. Allison and Mr. Royston kept the rhythm going in the spirit of the song.

Mr. Blake related the story behind the title of his next composition “Some Tiddy Boom Please” a reference to something Lester Young said to a drummer wanting him to kick it (the beat) a little. Mr. Blake starts out with an unaccompanied  saxophone solo that  is both expressive-he hums into his reed creating harmonic distortions- and rhythmically flowing as his horn pours out a funky groove, a pattern of notes that remind me a little of Eddie Harris’ work.  The band picks up the vamp as Blake continues, occasionally using some Hawkish rasp to his tenor. Some nice playing by pianist Kimbrough takes the whole thing into a loose swing mode.  Drummer Royston and bassist Allison have great chemistry and they carry the rhythm with a joyous bounce that is infectious. Blake ends the piece with a rousing solo that has elements of Young, Getz and a playful Blake in it to the delight of the crowd.

Mr. Blake introduced the next composition as a mini-suite titled “Letters in Disguise.” The slow ruminating opening featured some facile bass work by Ben Allison who plays with child-like excitement. Mr. Royston conjures up percussive sounds that somehow fit perfectly as Mr. Blake plays in a slow, sensuous tone that darkly aches with pathos and expression. Mr. Kimbrough then opens the second part of the suite with a quickened pace that bursts us into the daylight. The pianist is an accomplished player who had moments of inspiration during his solo that brought a smile to the faces of his fellow musicians as well as an appreciative audience. Mr. Kimbrough took the song to a new height of excitement that then allowed equally inspired playing by Mr. Blake. Blake’s soloing produced a series of measures that were inventive and at times derivative of the style of the masters he was acknowledging. The song ended as it began with Mr. Blake holding the final softly blown notes from the lowest register of his horn in a guttural hum that faded to a hushed whisper.

The next song was a straight blues in the style of Lester Young titled “Good Day for Pres.” Mr. Blake can certainly play with the beautiful lyricism of the “Pres.” when he wants to. He has a command of tone and attack that is quite impressive and like Lester he knows the value of space.  Mr. Allison, who besides being a talented composer in his own right, is a helluva bass player,  played an impressive extended bass solo, incorporating slides, bends and leaps, as Royston played gingerly on hi-hat and rim accompaniment. Not to be outdone Mr. Kimbrough provided his own impressive Monkish solo that had a way of making this simple blues into a far from simple song. The song ended in a slow, deliberate musical drawl that showed just how in tune these musicians are despite having little practice with the material.

The Coleman Hawkins inspired  “Hawk’s Rhumba " was the next composition. Mr. Blake nailed the Hawk’s tawny, luxurious sound on his tenor. The phrasing was impeccable and the warm, liquid tone was a treat to behold. Mr. Royston, never content to merely hold a beat, colored the song with flourishes of old time chick-a-boom style snares and shimmering cymbals. As Michael said to the audience at the conclusion of this one “If that didn’t get you in the mood I don’t know what would.”

The final composition of the set titled “The Ambassadors” had a slightly Caribbean beat mildly reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” Over the cadenced trap work of Royston, Mr. Blake played his free flowing tenor, interjecting s unique humming into his reed that created some interesting harmonic overtones. This was perhaps the most modern and contemporary music of the evening. Mr. Kimbrough played with sensitive accompaniment as Mr. Blake wailed. The band stopped in mid-stream allowing Mr. Blake center stage to develop ideas on his solo horn which again included his harmonic overtone work.  The band then, led by Mr. Kimbrough, went into a more funky groove that was steeped in R & B and had the audience bobbing their heads to the beat. Mr. Blake’s compositions and the nature of his band mates is such that the music is not rigid and it seems to develop organically as ideas percolate between these musicians, who have a rare rapport. It is as much a product of the written chart as it is of the ether from which these artists pull ideas and build upon them in sympathetic union.

For that reason Michael Blake’s World Time Zone is one of those bands that is best savored live. Catch them perform Mr. Blake's Contrasts in Individualism if you can.

While not this particular music, here is a sample of Michael Blake's work:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Janis Siegel and friends at the Side Door in Old Lyme, CT

Janis Siegel at the Side Door

A relatively new jazz club has quietly carved a place out for itself in the otherwise shrinking world of jazz music venues. The Side Door Jazz Club is located a stone’s throw from Interstate 95 off exit 70 at 85 Lyme Street in Old Lyme, CT.  It is part of the Old Lyme Inn, a beautifully restored bed, breakfast and restaurant that was originally built as a family homestead in 1856.

Left in relative disrepair, the Inn was purchased and renovated by Owners Ken and Chris Kitchings in 2011. Ken, a lifelong jazz fan who had been previously involved bringing artists to the Garde Theater in New London, CT., decided that an unused “side door” space would be the perfect spot for a jazz club. Seeing his vision through, the Side Door Jazz Club was opened in May of 2013. Since then Ken and his booking manager Jan Mullen have brought some amazing top-tier talent to their strategically located club along the Connecticut shoreline. It surely doesn't hurt that the club is almost equidistant for musicians who are traveling along the Boston to New York corridor, two major jazz hubs.  The  the club is comfortable and well appointed, the vibe is welcoming with reasonable acoustics and a generous stage and Ken’s exuberance is infectious. I don’t doubt that many performers find the venue a welcome respite.

On Friday night January 10, 2014 Janis Siegel played two sets of music, much of it from her latest album Nightsongs: A Late Night Interlude, her tenth solo release. Janis’s emotive voice, somewhere between a mezzo-soprano and a contaltro, has been heard for the last thirty-two years as the part of the Grammy Award winning group Manhattan Transfer. Her recent cd is her first self-produced album and is a great collaboration with the pianist/arranger John diMartino, a first call artist who has great sensitivity working with vocalists. The songs include selections include Billy Strayhorn “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,”  Rogers & Hart's “Lover,” Brenda Russell, Will Kennedy and Russell Ferrante’s “Love and Paris Rain” along with a song  penned by Bob Belden with lyrics by Siegel herself “Sweet September Rain.”  

On this evening, during the first set, she was joined by her pianist/arranger diMartino and the bass player, the talented Boris Kozlov, who also is part of the pianist's working trio.

The set started off with Ms. Siegel, a Brooklyn born chanteuse, appropriately singing the campy Lorraine Feather song “I Know the Way to Brooklyn.”  The song initiated the crowd to brief but potent solos by both Mr. di Martino and Mr. Kozlov. Ms. Siegel can navigate through multiple genre’s, from cabaret to bossa to torch to scat with ease and agility, and on Friday night before a receptive crowd she did just that.

Before the start of the second song, Ms. Siegel introduced the Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Nanny Assis, who joined her and the band for most of the first set. Mr. Assis, originally from Bahia, Brazil and now a CT native,  can make a panderio ( a small, round-shaped hand drum with jingles native to Brazil) sound like a full drum kit. His presence lent the proceedings a genuine rhythmic element that was infectious.

John di MArtino, Boris Kozlov, Janis Siegel and Nanny Assis

Ms. Siegel introduced Ann Hampton Callaway’s “Slow,” a lilting, breezy bossa  with Mr. Assis on congas. The song captivated the crowd with Ms. Siegel’s sensuous vocals deftly accompanied by Mr.  diMartino’s delicate piano fills and Mr. Kozlov’s warm bass lines. Ms. Siegel introduced the next tune, another bossa-infected treatment of the Rogers & Hart song “Lover.” Ms. Siegel sang with Mr. Assis, who was now on panderio. The two seemed to have fun with the music. Playing off each other in a joyful interaction that worked off the intimacy of the lyrics. They demonstrated a stage simpatico that had the audience smiling approvingly.

Following the Brazilian theme, Ms. Siegel commissioned Mr. Assis to sing a duo on the sultry Jobim tune “If You Never Come to Me.”  Mr. Assis has a soft, unassuming tenor that perfectly complements Ms. Siegel’s tawny mezz-soprano. The two showed a vocal and stage chemistry that was palpable and they charmed the audience with their subtle harmonies and moving interplay. Ms. Siegel is a competent scat artist and she used it to great effect as Mr. Assis sang softly in Portuguese.

The next song of the set was of personal significance to Ms. Siegel.  She related that she wrote the lyrics with her boyfriend Harry Levine to a cinematic instrumental by Bob Belden, that begged for words. The title “Sweet September Rain,” a slow ballad, featured Ms. Siegel, in a slightly higher register, poignantly describing memories of a past love affair. Mr. diMartino’s solo was particularly moving and Mr. Kozlov’s arco-bass at the coda was sublime.

Ms. Siegel offered a vocal version of the funk jazz, Lee Morgan composition “The Sidewinder,” with lyrics written by Jon Hendricks to describe a philandering gigolo.  With a distinctive ostinato bass line played expertly by Mr. Kozlov, the song had Ms. Siegel demonstrating her vocalese technique. She followed the serpentine tune expertly in a display of vocal gymnastics that was quite impressive. Mr. diMartino’s funky piano lines conjured up images of the late Bobby Timmons. The first set concluded with a Cuban Bolero inspired tune and a Stephen Sondheim composition showing the depth and range of Ms. Siegel’s repertoire.

Ms. Siegel continues to prove that she is in the upper echelon of vocal performers and at the Side Door she was in top form. Her fine band was completely in sync with her music. Happily the Side Door Jazz Club is a welcome addition to the CT jazz scene.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jazz Connect Conference Unites the Jazz Community at APAP NYC

On Thursday January 10th and Friday January 11th the Jazz Community got together to meet, renew friendships  and attend a series of panel discussions on the state of the music industry and jazz music in particular. The conference, held at the Hilton Hotel in NYC,  was sponsored as part of APAP (Association of Performing  Arts Presenters) NYC 2014 event and organized by Jazz Times magazine and the Jazz Forward Coalition. The theme of the conference  “The Road Ahead” with many of the conference panel discussions dealing with topics that are particularly relevant for musicians, producers, record labels, journalists and media experts operating in today’s increasingly morphing  entertainment and performing environment.

As a member of the Jazz Journalist Association and a freelance journalist specializing in jazz, I considered it a good place to connect with many of the artists whose music I listen to, to meet with fellow writers to discuss concerns and outlooks and to generally take the pulse of the industry. I was only able to attend the conference on Thursday, but I got to sit through several interesting presentations that were of particular interest to me.

“Engaging the Jazz Media Gatekeepers” was a panel discussion that was that sponsored by the Jazz Journalist Association,  with JJA President Howard Mandel moderating a panel  consisting Monifa Brown from Shanachie/WBGO, Newark, NJ ; Evan Haga from JazzTimes; J. Michael Harrison from WRTI Philadelphia; Hank Shteamer from the print weekly TimeOut  New York.  The concept is that  media professionals, like journalists and radio hosts, are gatekeepers between the musician and his ultimate audience. The panelists, prodded by moderator Mr. Mandel, revealed the process they use when they choose to promote a particular artist or album on their outlet. The discussion was broadly attended by musicians who were interested in getting insight into how they might improve their chances of having their music covered by the media. Some of the suggestions that came from the discussion seemed obvious. The general consensus from the panel was that with the sheer volume of label and self-produced material received made it virtually impossible to program or feature anything but the most compelling material. Clearly the subjective taste of the gatekeeper was a big factor in whether or not he or she would feature any particular music on their outlet. As Monifa Brown of WBGO said, try to target a presenter who might be sympathetic to your particular type of music; i.e. don’t send cabaret vocals to a hard bop aficionado as it most likely won’t be played. With stacks of music waiting to be opened, how does one choose which to look at and in which order? 

Several of the panel members confessed to looking for "name" artists when hunting through submissions as a way to cull out potential choices. Clearly having an artist of the stature of a Joe Lovano or a legend like Billy Hart on your album gets the gatekeeper's attention. If these guys are playing with this artist then maybe I should take a listen. I confess to being influenced by the presence of an artist that I already like on a new offering, but that leads to another question which was unfortunately never addressed at the conference. Does popular opinion within the insular jazz writing and radio community work to the detriment of uncovering new artists that deserve to be heard?  How do new artists or even established artists who remain on the periphery get the necessary exposure they need to become part of the discussion? Do new artists need to align themselves strategically with the artist du jour or an established legend to receive adequate ink and frequent air play? Is this a viable strategy for an artist provided he can remain true to his creative spirit? How do we as the gatekeepers ensure we are inclusive enough to continually expand the exposure of deserving artists?

Only speaking for myself, I try to listen to each and every artist whose music that I receive, whether or not they are known to me. If it is sent to me then the least I can do is take a serious listen. It can be a daunting task to give the music its fair share of listening time. There is many an instance when a piece of music doesn't immediately strike my fancy, but upon careful repeat listening I discover something that makes it worth the second effort. 

In this information age where we limit ourselves to  140 characters to get our point across, where people have little or no time to read in depth writing about national policy let alone jazz music how can an artist make enough of an impression to gain an audience? These are some of the perplexing issues that face new jazz artists.

Another panel discussion was titled “The New Paradigm for Record Labels” and was moderated by Jim Cuomo of Entertainment One Distribution with panelists musician Dave Douglas, of Green Leaf Music;  Jana Herzon from Motema Music;  musician Greg Osby of Inner Circle Music; Seth Rosner of Pi Records; Denny Stilwell of Mack Avenue Records and Oliver Weindling of Bable Records.  

This discussion was centered on the way the music was being delivered with streaming and downloads taking and increasing share of product placement over hard copy cds.  Artists who have formed their own labels like Dave Douglas and Greg Osby were finding that many of their listeners prefer the immediacy of downloads, using them as an entry point to the artist and his music.  It was noted that many of the younger audience have never used a cd player. Despite the fidelity issues of various media players, young people prefer downloads for their portability and space considerations. A resurgence of vinyl in record production was discussed, but it was clear that it is a tiny part of  overall sales and it has greater penetration in the European market where fidelity and cover art seemed to be of greater concern.

The effect of Spotify, the on-line streaming music service, was also discussed with most panelists deciding that the trend was inevitable. As to whether or not the overall effect on the music industry and the artists in particular was positive or negative, the sentiment was that it remained to be seen, but the consensus was that the artist share of the revenue had to be increased to a more sustainable share for it to be good for all concerned. 

I caught part of an inspirational address given by Wendy Oxenhorn from the non-profit Jazz Foundation of America, speaking passionately about the work she and the foundation has done and continues to do for elder jazz musicians who have fallen on hard times. Ms. Oxenhorn welled-up with emotion as she recalled once  finding the late saxophonist Cecil Payne, stubbornly but proudly living in seclusion, barely eating. Realizing his peril she  finally convinced him into accepting some help. I confess the story almost brought me to tears. Clearly the Jazz Foundation is a labor of love that needs to be supported by all of us and Wendy’s tireless work will be sorely missed as she is stepping down as President.

Between these and concurrent panel discussions, the conference was a great hang. I got to meet many of the musicians that I have listened to and written about and the feeling of community was palpable. The final panel that I was able to attend was held by the JJA in the afternoon.  I  met face to face with fellow members to discuss how we as a writers, educators and advocates could expand our effort to support the music. We discussed how we could continue our association with jazz educational institutions as a viable means to bring the appreciation of jazz to a younger audience.  It was agreed that we should all make efforts to raise awareness of the music locally by promoting Jazz April, the upcoming month of April as Jazz Appreciation Month and April 30th 2014 as International Jazz Day.

At the conclusion of the day I came away with a sense of being a part of something that was quite extraordinary, a community of people who aspire to create, preserve, promote and proselytize a very special music. A music that transcends boundaries and unites us all by raising our awareness. An awareness that we are all members of the human race and that creative expression is something that needs to be actively nurtured if we are to ever to reach our limitless potential as part of that race..

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ben Allison "The Stars Look Very Different Today"

                                                                Sonic Camera Records

With a distinctively science fiction flavor,  composer/bassist Ben Allison’s latest  The Stars Look Very Different Today  follows a Star Trekian path to “…to boldy go where no man has gone before.”  For
Mr. Allison the path is the creation of modern, approachable improvisational music and here he is once again successful in blazing the way.

Continuing on the science fiction/outer space theme, the album title is taken from a line in David Bowie’s Space Oddity which back in 1972 was itself a bold statement on a changing world and the disorienting effects of scientific progress. Over forty years later, Mr. Allison clearly influenced by Bowie among others of his generation, is not so much disoriented by space-aged technology as he is fascinated by the possibilities that it creates. The textures and sounds he now has at his disposal as a result of this technology is what seems to interest him and he sets forth to show us that he has learned how to use them tastefully.

The album offers a curious mix of deep space and terra-firma. Songs like “The Ballad of Joe Buck,” and “No Other Side,” with their strange combination of twang and techno, seem clearly more down to earth, a view from the ground up as it were. These songs are curiously juxtaposed against his more spacey creations like  “Neutron Star,” “ D.A.V.E.” (Digital Awareness Vector Emulation) and “Improvisus”  where there is no doubt that Mr. Allison has had his head in the stars as of late. All his compositions seem to offer a unifying cinematic quality where you can see yourself in the sound scape he creates no matter how alien those places may seem.

The band is made up of a pulsating rhythm section. Mr. Allison strumming his bass, creating a drone-like beat. Drummer Allison Miller producing military-like cadences on her traps keeping everyone in step. This is especially notable on the lead song “D.A.V.E. “ The two guitar format is unusual but effective. Mr. Allison employs these two lead instrumental voices as perfect foils in both attack and tone. Mr. Cardenas is a sumptuously lyrical player with a warm, smooth tone and marvelous harmonic sensibilities as featured on the beautiful “Dr. Zaius.” Mr. Seabrook is a wrecking ball of a player whose has an arsenal of sounds that range from penetratingly piercing to simply sublime. Seabrook’s creative use of the banjo adds another dimension most interestingly on a song like the brooding and sauntering “The Ballad of Joe Buck.” The deliberately slow, exaggerated pace of the melody belies the degree of skill it takes to do this kind of song effectively and reminds me of some of the progressive work in this style done by the seriously under appreciated group Slow Poke.

“Neutron Star” is a repeating, ascending guitar vamp by Mr. Cardenas that is punctuated by the rhythmic chording and electronics of Mr. Seabrook and  Mr. Allison’s booming bass lines over Ms. Miller’s rolling toms and splashing cymbals. Cleverly employing the  electronic and acoustic sounds of his band, Mr. Allison and his group manage to create a field of pulsing rhythmic energy, a musical neutron star.

“Kick it Man” is an ostinato based, crescendo building vamp that feels like you are in a situation room where the world outside is growing ever more dangerous, accentuated to frenzy by Ms. Miller’s bombastic drum solo. Could this be Mr. Allison’s statement on the invasion of tranquility that technology brings with it?

“Swiss Cheese D” is an electronic, riff-based shuffle that features Mr. Allison playing some facile bass lines. Mr. Seabrook interjects wild electronic sounds from both guitar and banjo while Mr. Cardenas offers staccato guitar lines and brash chords as Ms. Miller keeps the fractured time.

As a progressive composer Mr. Allison is  looking to embrace aspects of popular contemporary music combining them with  skilled improvisational techniques, including the creative use of electronics and codifying them into original works. He like others are blazing a musical path that has not yet been fully explored. Hopefully his efforts will spark interest in a new generation of listeners that are discontent with what the current popular music scene has to offer. Raising the plane of what we can expect from our musical artists.

With The Stars Look Very Different Today, Mr. Allison and friends have provided a musical journey to no particular destination.  For those who wish to take the ride it offers some interesting sights and sounds along the way.

All Music composed By Ben Allison:
Ben Allison, Bass : Steve Cardenas,  guitar;  Brandon Seabrook, guitar, Banjo; Allison Miller, drums