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“A surprising and stunning album.” Christian Science Monitor
“Allison’s best yet. Truly sublime.” Huffington Post
“Audacious sci-fi jazz.” Denver Post
THE STARS LOOK VERY DIFFERENT TODAY
(Sonic Camera Records, December 3, 2013)
New York, NY – Thursday, September 26, 2013 – For nearly two decades, the renowned bassist and composer Ben Allison has continually broken new artistic ground by refusing to bow to complacency. A musician’s musician, Allison’s career has been defined by his fearless drive to pull inspiration from an extremely wide variety of sources, to mix and match sounds into a cohesive whole that drags jazz kicking and screaming into the future. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Whenever some fool goes on about the death of jazz, play that misguided soul some Ben Allison,” while Billboard said, “A New York underground jazz scene mainstay, bassist Ben Allison has broken away from traditional jazz into crossover hybrids and developed a distinctive voice.”
Allison’s audacious spirit fuels his idiosyncratic career as one of New York City’s most talked-about bassist/composers. Constantly redefining his musical imprint, the prolific recording artist has earned a long list of impressive accolades, including seven SESAC Performance Awards (given to songwriters who top US national radio charts), and citations in numerous Downbeat Readers and Critics’ polls, including the Bassist and Composer categories, as well as Rising Star: Arranger, Jazz Artist, Composer and Bassist categories (the latter of which he topped for three consecutive years). Allison composed the theme song for the NPR program, On the Media, which debuted in 2001 and reaches 1.5 million listeners per week.
His influence as a musician extends beyond his role as a bassist. As a New York Chapter Governor of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), Allison testified before the United States Congress (June 2012), solidifying his reputation as an advocate for musicians’ performance rights. Allison was also the founder of the Jazz Composers Collective, a musician-run, nonprofit organization based in New York City.
On his new album, The Stars Look Very Different Today (Sonic Camera Records, Dec. 3, 2013), Allison continues his outward expansion as a bassist and composer. The recording – his 11th as a leader – features Allison’s brilliant working band of Brandon Seabrook (guitar and banjo), Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Allison Miller (drums), each accomplished bandleaders in their own right. Allison not only wrote and arranged the entire album, but for the first time produced and mixed it as well, making this his most personal album to date.
The title, drawn from a line in David Bowie’s early hit Space Oddity, reflects Allison’s lifelong
fascination with science, technology and film. These themes are expounded upon throughout the course of the album’s eight boldly constructed, cinematic tracks, which include five premieres, two re-imagined earlier pieces and one wholly improvised vignette featuring bass and guitar-driven tape loops.
“I wanted to create a sound collage that mashes references from intersecting worlds,” says Allison. Layered sonic textures, a wide dynamic range and a balance between the adventurous and the accessible have always been hallmarks of Ben’s style. But improvisation, a restless drive to experiment and an endless search for new and original band sounds remain the driving forces behind his music. And at the heart of it all is improvisation. “This album is a snapshot in time,” says Allison. “It captures a conversation in flux. Some of it was planned, some of it was not. But I’m always working towards a cohesive group sound. As a composer, I try to create sonic landscapes that musicians are free to explore. The tunes are never really done. In a way, we rewrite them every time we play them.”
Among the songs making their initial appearance on an Allison recording is “D.A.V.E. (Digital Awareness Vector Emulator),” which Ben wrote for his Carnegie Hall debut in 2012. In reaction to the concert, the Huffington Post wrote, “The audience was mesmerized as the group provided mind-bending, experimental, musical performance art.” The composition initially had lyrics about a ‘thinking’ machine that is becoming sentient, but was reworked by Allison for this album. The title references a human character from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ben plays the opening bass part using a folded NYC subway MetroCard.
“Dr. Zaius” is another tune brought about by Allison’s love of cinema. “It’s partly inspired by the film Planet of the Apes and songs and scores of that era,” he says. “Brandon’s solo at the beginning of the take reminds me of a spaceship landing in an unfamiliar world. When Steve begins his solo we step out into the sun.”
“The Ballad of Joe Buck,” Allison comments, “is one of those rare tunes that came to me in its entirety in just a few minutes. I quickly sang it into my phone so I wouldn’t forget it. The idea to feature the banjo inspired the title, which refers to the character in the film Midnight Cowboy played by Jon Voight. I’ve referenced the John Barry-composed score for that film in other tunes of mine (notably “Green Al” and “Four Folk Songs”).”
Of “Neutron Star,” Allison says, “I wrote this tune the night before we went into the studio. Neutron stars have about the same mass as 1.5 of our suns, all crammed into a sphere about the size of Brooklyn. A teaspoon-size piece of a neutron star would weigh about a billion tons on earth. It’s incredible to think about. There was something about Brandon’s opening guitar improv that reminded me of space, then the churning energy when the band enters gets the ball spinning. I admit that I’m a science nerd. I love to learn about biology, chemistry, physics, neurology, evolution, technology, space, the human immune system, geology, parasites … anything and everything related to science.”
The last of the five new compositions is “No Other Side,” which Allison describes as “another song originally written with lyrics. The song is sung from the perspective of a fictional fundamentalist. He has sure and certain knowledge that his beliefs are true and unassailable. There’s only one side to the argument … it’s his side and he’s right!”
Allison also revisits two older compositions. “Kick it Man,” a reworking of the tune “Hey Man” from his 2006 album Cowboy Justice, is “a simple tune that’s fun to play,” he says. And “Swiss Cheese D,” which originally appeared on 2001’s Riding the Nuclear Tiger. About this one, Allison notes, “It’s basically a vehicle for us to go nuts. It’s always a hit when we play live. Brandon put some sticks between the strings of his guitar and Steve created a lot of amazing overtones by muting his strings in various ways. It’s all about texture on this tune. My buzzing bass part is created by pulling a string off the side of the fingerboard, plucking that string with one finger and another with my thumb.” The title, he adds, “is a nod to Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier, the famous guard and current commentator for the Knicks, who sometimes refers to their defense as ‘Swiss Cheese D’ (as in, full of holes).” Appropriately, the tune is in the key of D.
Finally, there’s “Improvisus,” recorded at the very end of the session. “I usually have at least one freely improvised tune on each of my albums,” says Allison. “This one is almost entirely Brandon and me. He created all of the loops and collages on the fly, with no overdubbing. He had recorded a section of an improvisation we had just done on his old school portable cassette recorder, then played it back through his pickup. The rewinding tape makes the screeching sound you hear. At the very end, Steve comes in with a little picked part and then detunes his guitar for that big final chord. When he played that chord we all started laughing. I knew the session was over. It was a great way to end the date and the record.”
Over for them, perhaps, but for fans of this ever-evolving artist, The Stars Look Very Different Today invites multiple listens. Its diversely crafted compositions reveal new depth with each play. “Some might argue this isn’t jazz anymore,” says Allison about his new release. “But for me, it’s part of a continuum. Jazz musicians define the music on a daily basis. This album is the most complete reflection of my ideas.”
The Stars Look Very Different Today
(Release Date: Tuesday, December 3, 2013)
1. D.A.V.E. (Digital Awareness Vector Emulator)
2. Dr. Zaius
3. The Ballad of Joe Buck
4. Neutron Star
5. No Other Side
6. Kick It, Man
7. Swiss Cheese D
UPCOMING APPEARANCES BY THE BEN ALLISON BAND INCLUDE:
October 18 – Cornelia Street Café – New York City
November 9 & 10 – Dazzle – Denver, CO
November 11-14 – Ford Center for Fine Arts – Galesburg, IL
November 15 & 16 – Green Mill – Chicago, IL
December 3 – CD Release Celebration – Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater – New York City