Ben Allison, bass; Mamadou Diabate, kora; Michael Blake, tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet; Frank Kimbrough, piano, prepared piano, Wurlitzer; Michael Sarin, drums and percussion; with guest Peter Apfelbaum, tenor sax (tracks 1,6,and 8); Tomas Ulrich, cello (tracks 1 and 6)
From the first strains of the opening track, "Thrid Rail" one can feel the other worldliness of the music. The kora, the stringed African predecessor of the banjo, etc., juxtaposed against the sonorous celo and bass, on top of a pair of soaring saxophones makes for a thickened gumbo that sticks to the ribs. This is a heady music.
Composer/bassist Ben Allison has been over the past decade making a name for himself as a quit capable arranger and soloist. His early artistic follies, namely the Jazz Composers Collective garnered impressive media coverage and set him on his way.
Allison's Peace Pipe is his fifth recording as a leader and perhaps his most daring as a composer.
The lynchpin of the disc is of course Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate and Allison gives him ample room to roam. Showcased on the intriguing solo improv, "Music is Music" and "Dakan," Diabate composed both tunes.
The ingenious addition of the kora gives the music a spiritual lift. Another adventurous move is the inclusion of tenor Peter Apfelbaum. Known for his raucous small big bands of the early 1990s in San Francisco, Apfelbaum knows how to build tension, heightened with drama.
Main stay tenor Blake is however fiding his voice in the areas of 1970s Dave Liebman, et al. On the track, "Disposable" he and Apfelbaum mix it up to great contrast. In fact the group could have fleahed out more terrain than its short four minutes plus. It's a bet that this is a whirlwind performance if caught 'live'.
The soothing debth of melodic content along with highly charged solos makes for a memorable session. Allison's group is one to watch out for.
by Lofton Emenari III
Jazz Now Interactive
Copyright Jazz Now, October 2002 issue, all rights reserved