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The New Cool: Ben Allison, Bass Up Front

Photo: Courtesy Ben Allison
I can play up here, too! Bass player, composer, band leader Ben Allison.

When you live in New York City, you don't need to travel much. The world comes to you, as it has for bassist Ben Allison, who's just released his 12th album as a leader, Layers of the City.

Over a 30-year career, Allison's worked with a panoply of top musicians including kora master Mamadou Diabate, oud player Ara Dinkjian, and jazz sax stars Lee Konitz and Joe Lovano. He's also helped create the Jazz Composers Collective, a non-profit working to foster new music and building jazz audiences.

Previewing his latest album for, Allison describes Layers of the City as a musical survey of "the grime and uneven slope of old tenement buildings, the gleam and perfect angles of modern glass structures, the makeshift and the honed, the worn out and the state of the art, and everything in between. These juxtapositions, coupled with the cultural diversity of NYC, produce a unique kind of energy and vitality."

The album features his band Think Free - Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Frank Kimbrough (piano) and Allan Mednard (drums) - and it's also Ben Allison's first album to feature a few recordings of his skills on electric bass.

Aside from his talent as a unique bass player and improvisor, Allison's focus has been on his songwriting. Cardenas says, "He can write these very angular things that somehow have melodicism all through them." Original music of all kinds is a passion, as well. Allison is an active member of the Recording Academy, testifying to a Congressional panel on the topic of musicians' performing rights and copyright issues.

But back to the music itself - this week's New Cool features the title song from Layers of the City, a dramatic piece with Cardenas' echo-tinged guitar solo over a propulsive, uptempo rhythm. The song shifts gears often, opening up space, changing the pace to a mid-tempo rock-inspired breakdown before returning to the pulsing bass and drums to close.

Ben Allison is telling compelling stories of his beautiful, gritty, complicated city. No words necessary.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3-5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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