By Paul de Barros | Published October 2017
Bassist and composer Ben Allison’s brief but sweet second album with his Think Free quintet, Layers Of The City, offers an engaging range of sonic impressions of Allison’s home base, New York. Allison has always had a fine ear for tricky melodies, playful moods and an occasional dollop of world beat and free improv, and this album is no exception, though its deftly integrated tracks feel more relaxed and less self-conscious than some of his earlier work.
In an album that comes to praise the city’s moods, the aptly titled “Magic Number” sets the tone—a resolute, quietly mysterious, slow-motion melody presented with reverb and bluesy turns by Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Jeremy Pelt (trumpet). Allison’s melodies are deceptively simple. “Enter The Dragon,” the memorable track that follows, is a good example, with its unpredictably zig-zagging line that ends with the infectious repetition of a dramatically declared sequence. Allison’s longtime cohort, pianist Frank Kimbrough, takes an atonal rumble through this one and an equally satisfying Monk-ish outing on the whimsically conspiratorial “The Detective’s Wife.” And a percolating African current slips under the title track, a happy, rippling tune featuring an infectious Cardenas solo, all supported by Allan Mednard’s crackling drums and Allison’s throbbing bass.
Layers Of The City concludes, appropriately, with “Get Me Offa This Thing,” which may or may not be an invocation of Manhattan’s insane No. 4 train, but which nevertheless adds yet another tasty slice of life to a lovely sonic moving picture.
Layers Of The City: Magic Number; Enter The Dragon; Ghost Ship; Layers Of The City; The Detective’s Wife; Blowback; Get Me Offa This Thing. (41:10)
Personnel: Ben Allison, bass; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Steve Cardenas, guitar; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Allan Mednard, drums.