Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"For bassist Ben Allison's 10th album, he says that he wanted to "try something different and record other people's music." And six of the seven tracks on the disc are interpretations from composers ranging from Thelonious Monk to PJ Harvey. But it's not just eclecticism that makes Action-Refraction so striking. With pianist Jason Lindner doubling on synthesizer alongside guitarist Steve Cardenas (and, on two tracks, Brandon Seabrook on additional guitar), the album is more about using the melodic themes to construct sound collages and then snake around their layers. The technique works especially well as it adds much mystery, while keeping a sense of uplift, on Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free." Allison and drummer Rudy Royston also sound like they're having a great time messing with the tempo of "We've Only Just Begun." When Allison's quartet played at Chicago's Green Mill in early April, Allison made a comment onstage about how saxophonist Michael Blake "rocked the bass clarinet" on this album as the group giggled at how that term is rarely applied to this woodwind.Action-Refraction shows that it should." -DownBeat
Down Beat (p.53) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Bottom heavy -- with Michael Blake's bass clarinet and two grinding electric guitars joining Ben Allison's bass -- ACTION-REFRACTION shares a fondness for the forms and bombast of prog-rock with The Bad Plus."
JazzTimes (p.53) - "A rewarding excursion, ACTION-REFRACTION allows us a glimpse into some of the songs and composers informing Allison's eclectic musical universe."
Personnel: Steve Cardenas (guitar); Micahel Blake (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Jason Lindner (piano); Rudy Royston (drums).
Audio Mixers: Matt Balitsaris; Ben Allison.
Photographer: Greg Aiello.
Arranger: Ben Allison.
Bassist Ben Allison's latest album is a collection of covers, or interpretations, of others' songs; only one is a jazz standard (Thelonious Monk's "Jackie-Ing"), and that's barely recognizable as such. The rock-oriented band, which includes saxophonist/bass clarinetist Michael Blake, guitarist Steve Cardenas (and a second guitarist, Brandon Seabrook, on two tracks), keyboardist Jason Lindner, and drummer Rudy Royston, churns through PJ Harvey's "Missed," Donny Hathaway's "Some Day We'll All Be Free," Neil Young's "Philadelphia," and Paul Williams' "We've Only Just Begun," along with classical composer Samuel Barber's "St Ita's Vision" and one Allison original, the album-closing "Broken." The sound, frequently led by Cardenas with Allison providing a rocksteady throb beneath, is somewhere in the neighborhood of rock; "Missed" sounds like Tom Waits' incorporation of rhumba on 1985's Rain Dogs, while the Hathaway tune becomes a repetitive vamp with Lindner's keyboards providing swooping noises and atmospheric static. "Philadelphia" strips the band down to guitar, bass and gently brushed drums, sounding like a Bill Frisell project in the process. "St. Ita's Vision" brings the keyboards front and center, going for a spacy prog rock vibe reminiscent of early-'70s Tangerine Dream or some Krautrock outfit. "We've Only Just Begun" is the closest thing here to true jazz, with melodic extrapolations rather than repetition, rhythmic fluidity, etc. Blake even launches a tenor solo that goes pretty out, with plenty of squeaks and squawks to strip the song of any lingering associations with the Carpenters. "Broken" is another atmospheric slow burner, Lindner's keyboard sounds reminiscent of Autechre at times. Action-Refraction isn't a straight jazz album, but it's more likely to appeal to young jazz listeners than to indie rock fans, though it offers pleasures for anyone with open ears. ~ Phil Freeman