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Think Free

Ben Allison

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Album Review

Think Free is the eigth recording veteran bassist and bandleader Ben Allison has recorded for Palmetto and his ninth overall. The last two, Cowboy Justice (2006) and Little Things Run the World (2008), were signposts to this one. On the former, Allison used funk and even rock sign posts — even as he relied on the jazz tradition to make a political statement about 9/11 and then-president George W. Bush's two wars. On the latter, Allison used his compositional and arranging skills to create a series of musical montages that came out of the jazz framework and looked (albeit in a skewed way) at the schemata of popular music in order to express harmonic ideas, and he used colors and textures to articulate ideas that were clearly outside the jazz idiom. It is a wonderfully complex set that is nonetheless extremely listenable.

On Think Free, Allison has assembled a new band with only guitarist Steve Cardenas carrying over from his last effort. Also in the lineup are violinist Jenny Scheinman, drummer Rudy Royston, and trumpeter Shane Endsley. Allison strays a bit farther from the tradition's backbone, concentrating instead on creating melodies with crossing rhythm patterns and harmonics that may seem transparent but carry within them gorgeous subtleties. Source material ranges from pop, funky soul, and rock, but also the Americana that Scheinman is so fond of, and even African and Eastern European-flavored music slides well into the jazz format. The album opener, "Fred," begins on a straight rock 4/4, with a melody that walks a line between the sweetness of some of Miles Davis' later pop-oriented material, and the slippery, chorus heavy lyricism of groups such as Coldplay. "Platypus" begins with Cardenas' guitar in singsong fashion, which is quickly joined by the ensemble with off-kilter breaks by Royston, in response to a lithe yet funky groove laid down by Allison. Endsley's trumpet is the voice of sheer lyricism, especially as it is underscored by Scheinman's violin bowed and plucked. (One wonders if the tune is a nod to the platypus/secret agent character in the animated Phineas & Ferb cartoon series. There is a suspenseful little riff in the bridges happening, and the entire thing feels slightly spy-show themed.) "Peace Pipe" is the album's most startling track in that it employs Scheinman's violin as a multi-purpose folk instrument; sounding like an African kalimba one moment and a Chinese erhu the next, before articulating itself as a violin in the break. Snares and bass drum keep a simple rhythm, and the melody played by Endsley is songlike. Cardenas' guitar merely stretches its phrasings and colors them in until the refrain, where everything gels into something superlative and brings jazz back to the fore — especially in the extended solo improvisations in the middle. His solos, which are on the rockist tip in contrast to Endsley's expressionistic one and Scheinman's near-vanguard swing, are all stellar. The album closes with a moving and beautiful tribute in "Green, Al" in which Allison and Scheinman get downright funky on the soul tip. Think Free is a warm, humorous, and genuinely lovely album by Allison that, despite its accessibility, stretches both his compositional and arranging palettes into new and exciting territories.

Customer Reviews


I loved this album It is soft yet playful, quite yet loud all at the same time. You can sit and listen to the music with your eyes closed and watch the story of it unfold before your closed eyes. AMAZING! Bravo!

Think Free

Step outside the corral of your stored memory of melodies. Set aside notions of rhythm patterns, of how music ought to sound, and feel.
Go ahead and go the someplace else this music takes you. Exciting.


Born: November 17, 1966 in New Haven, CT

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

A versatile acoustic bassist/composer with an adventurous spirit, Ben Allison has often excelled in jazz settings but has leaned toward more eclectic rock- and funk-oriented sounds on his own albums. The East Coast native was only nine when he began studying music, and he was 22 when, in 1989, he graduated from New York University with a B.A. in jazz performance. In 1992, Allison founded the Jazz Composers Collective, a musician-run nonprofit organization that encouraged artists to take risks and...
Full Bio
Think Free, Ben Allison
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Customer Ratings