Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel


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Early in his career Ben Allison wisely realized that recognition would come easier if he banded together with similarly inclined players. So in 1992, taking a cue from the AACM, he cofounded the Jazz Composers Collective; since then, each member has developed a sublime fluency in the others' work. Allison is uniquely skilled at making conflicting musical ideas work together: his compositions feature contrasting melody lines, sharp rhythmic shifts, and more convoluted conceits--a piece on an early album was in two keys simultaneously. Buzz (Palmetto), the latest release by Allison's group Medicine Wheel, is a rich contrapuntal concoction that encompasses a wealth of styles. Before it veers off into a bluesy groove driven by Frank Kimbrough's funky piano, "Respiration" sounds like a chamber-jazz take on Radiohead; "Mauritania," written by saxophonist Michael Blake, cribs some ideas from North African trance music, as Kimbrough's piano underlines a circular groove sculpted by drummer Michael Sarin. On the title track, Sarin shifts between swift swing and choppy clatter while the rest of the band adds a dissonant tone via unusual treatments--bundles of pea pods wrapped around bass strings, coins and paper clips lodged in piano strings--but the elegant horn arrangement brings a steely balance. This is the long overdue Chicago debut for the group, which also features trombonist Clark Gayton. Allison also plays a free, all-ages show with his Kush Trio, which includes Blake and Sarin, Friday at 12:15 PM in the Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Fri 1/21, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. Allison and Medicine Wheel also perform Saturday at the Green Mill, and on Thursday, January 20, they play a free, all-ages show at 7 PM in Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630.

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