Get On Your Tiger and Ride

Riding The Nuclear Tiger
Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel (Palmetto Records)

By Rick Forest

Occasionally you hear the plaintive cry: "Where is Jazz going?" On one side are those who claim that nothing worthwhile was recorded after the death of Bird (or Coltrane, or Bix, or when Miles went electric - take your pick). While the names change, the style of playing pretty much remains the same. Others want to move into the new millennium by scrapping all the old conventions and starting anew. Somewhere in middle stands Bassist Ben Allison. Ben helped form the Jazz Composers Collective to provide an environment for creative risk taking and development of new music. Some of those artists join him in his third release for Palmetto Records, Riding The Nuclear Tiger.

In Riding, Allison's arrangements provide a rich environment for improvisation within the structure of a small ensemble. The septet runs through the tunes with deft ease, leaving you with the impression of a group of players who have a common goal in mind: stretching the limits of bebop while respecting the tradition.

You won't find yourself whistling any of the melodies on Riding while waiting for the bus, but you will be drawn in and find yourself paying attention. Of particular interest is "Charlie Brown's Psychedelic Christmas," which opens with the ensemble playing in C and E-flat simultaneously, bringing an odd, but not displeasing, dissonance to a Vince Guaraldi-like melody.

If you want to stretch your ears without resorting to the kind of avant-garde material that may cause the neighbor's dogs to howl in sympathy, try this new one from Ben Allison and Medicine Wheel. If this is the future direction of jazz, it's fine by me.

Rick Forest is jazz producer for WFPK and host of its Jazz, Etc. program each weeknight. You can read his monthly jazz column in Trio, the program guide/magazine for the Public Radio Partnership.