Action-Refraction (Palmetto Records)

Ben Allison

Released April 18, 2011

Top 10 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll 2011




Bassist Ben Allison Creates Otherworldly Mixtape for 10th Album ‘Action-Refraction’ The release of ‘Action-Refraction’ marks gifted bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Allison’s 10th album – and first collection of music by other artists. With nine critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader to his credit (the last six reaching #1 on the CMJ National Jazz radio chart), Allison has solidified his rep as a cutting edge composer. To celebrate his 10th, Ben has turned his ear towards the music of some of his favorite artists, creating an inspired, atmospheric, and at times, art-rock mixtape featuring the music of PJ Harvey, Donny Hathaway, Thelonious Monk, Neil Young, Samuel Barber and Roger Nichols. The idea was sparked when Ben wondered how it would sound “to refract some of my favorite tunes through the prism of an electro-acoustic orchestra featuring two electric guitars, bass clarinet, saxophone, analog synthesizer, piano, acoustic bass and drums.” The album is full of “happy accidents” – unplanned moments that capture a musical conversation in flux. Action-Refraction features Ben Allison on bass with Steve Cardenas (guitar), Rudy Royston (drums), Jason Lindner (keyboards), Michael Blake (bass clarinet, tenor sax) and, on two tracks, the addition of Brandon Seabook (guitar).

Track Listing:

1. Jackie-ing (Thelonious Monk) 4:52

2. Missed (PJ Harvey) 5:15

3. Someday We’ll All Be Free (Donny Hathaway) 7:11

4. Philadelphia (Neil Young) 5:37

5. St. Ita’s Vision (Samuel Barber) 7:00

6. We’ve Only Just Begun (Paul Williams / Roger Nichols) 7:50

7. Broken (Ben Allison) 5:06


Ben Allison: bass

Michael Blake: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet

Steve Cardenas: guitar

Jason Lindner: Prophet 08 analog synthesizer, piano

Rudy Royston: drums

Brandon Seabrook: guitar (3, 7)

Recorded December 6 – 7, 2010, at Maggie’s Farm, by Matt Balitsaris

Mastered by Gene Paul

Mixed by Ben Allison and Matt Balitsaris

Photography by Greg Aiello

Design: Shawn Dos Santos

Produced by Ben Allison

Co-Produced by Matt Balitsaris


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 (AllMusic)