This Friday, February 3rd, is a milestone date for Ben Allison. The free-minded bassist and composer will make his Carnegie Hall debut at 10pm, and, if the lineup is any indication, it will certainly be one of his most memorable shows.
Joining him at Zankel Hall will be his latest quintet with guitarist Steve Cardenas, saxophonist Michael Blake, guitarist and banjoist Brandon Seabrook and drummer Rudy Royston, along with newcomers — but veterans in their own right — percussionist Rogerio Boccato and vocalist Joey Arias.
I’ve been a fan of Allison’s music since discovering his album Third Eye in the early 2000s. His music linked the worlds of Ellington, Mingus and Andrew Hill with the hard-edged and worldly downtown music scene in New York City, while managing to sound utterly original. Additionally, his focus on texture and timbre as an element on equal footing with melody and harmony make for singularly compelling music.
Over the last 15 years, Allison has stayed true to his M.O. as a bassist, composer, and bandleader, releasing ten studio albums that map the steady refinement of his sound and style. Since I started seeing his bands live around 2003, the bassist has largely pared down the relative harmonic complexity of his early compositions in favor of melodically, rhythmically, and texturally rich compositions that compliment the styles of his carefully selected collaborators.
Saxophonist Michael Blake, drummer Rudy Royston, and guitarist Steve Cardenas have been close compatriots of Allison for years, and know his music inside and out. Brandon Seabrook is a relative newcomer who contributed on a pair of selections on Allison’s latest album Action/Refraction, a stellar collection of crafty cover songs.
Rogerio Boccato is a versatile and well-respected artist who has performed with the likes of John Patitucci and Hermeto Pascoal. This video — also from the series that Carnegie Hall produced in anticipation of the concert — gives a glimpse of the musical connection Allison and Boccato have already fostered:
To my ears, Ben is at his absolute best when writing for, and performing with, a group that includes a unique, non-traditional solo voice — 2002’s Peace Pipe, a collaboration with Malian Kora master Mamadou Diabate is a great example — and the addition of vocalist Joey Arias is another reason this concert is a must-see.
Arias, who is probably best know for his important collaboration with the operatic performance artist Klaus Nomi, has made a name for himself as a performance artists, cabaret singer and drag artist over a career that has spanned nearly 40 years. I have never heard him perform with Allison, but given their shared penchant for blurring boundries — musical and otherwise — it’s hard to imagine the collaboration being anything but thrilling.