Right off the bat, you realize Ben Allison is up to something different.
Rather than simply pursuing the conventional jazzman-for-hire route -- something particularly common with contemporary bass players and drummers -- Allison is a composer and arranger first, bassist second.
Think Charles Mingus; Allison has an eye for the bigger picture, and rather than simply updating standards or blowing through stock sets of chord changes, he's after a manifestation of the music he hears in his head.
That music -- recorded with a variety of ensembles, perhaps most notably Medicine Wheel, the group that helped Allison achieve the remarkable "Buzz" recording sessions -- is notable immediately for the richness and tonal color of his chord voicings, which are never standard, and are always dense and redolent with possibilities for improvisers.
This deeply imbued flair for manipulating harmony in endlessly interesting ways has earned Allison some serious props from folks for whom such things are concerns of immense import. Almost unanimously, serious jazz critics have hailed Allison as the freshest voice on the vibrant New York City jazz scene. And that, even a cursory listen to Allison's work confirms, is not mere hyperbole. Allison is the real deal.
The Ben Allison New Quartet performs at 8 p.m. next Friday, inside the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Auditorium. Admission is free.
-- Jeff Miers