Ben Allison, Union Square (A-Beat Records)
2001’s Riding The Nuclear Tiger remains this bassist/composer/arranger’s finest moment, melodically inventive, humorous, demanding, earthy, impeccably paced. But while that album played off the energies of a generous septet, here the most basic of trios (reed, bass, drums) settles into ten relaxed originals ranging from roiling rhythm feature “No Other Side” and the “Naima”-acknowledging “Compassion” to the honking back and forth of “Flapper” and shifting time signatures of lovely opener “Strays”. Former Lounge Lizard Michael Blake alternates between soprano and tenor, Rudy Royston nimbly swings, and the leader anchors every song with playful grace. Jazz this stripped-down rarely retains the kind of warmth on display here, and while it’s clear Allison remains beholden to a specific time and place in music - a time and place now largely vanished - he’s the kind of traditionalist you’d never once accuse of mining the past.
Karriem Riggins, Alone Together (Stones Throw)
A Detroit drummer and producer who’s split his time between jazz heavies (Roy Hargrove, Milt Jackson, Betty Carter) and the neo-soul/hip-hop nexus (Common, J Dilla), Riggins combines two vinyl-and-download-only EPs into a de facto debut of 34 cuts averaging 90 seconds each. Not a composer, and not really much of a constructor, he does know how to hold a groove down. Even better, he knows how to mess with a groove, nestling hard bop alongside breezy SoCal waka jawaka, looping fender rhodes fusion underneath chitlin circuit grime, and mixing cheesed-out disco with basement-quality drum workouts. But despite his years in the field, this seems less a personal summation of abilities and fixations than a summation of sorts of the Stones Throw aesthetic at its most self-indulgent - free form, fragmentary, eccentric. I don’t mind the brevity or the whiplash editing, and in fact wonder how much longer many of these tracks might have lasted before seriously overstaying their welcome. But I also wish that somebody with the ears and smarts to sample a bootlegged live recording of Thrust-era Herbie Hancock had chosen to employ said sample longer than thirty seconds. Or at least awarded the same amount of stage time as the Art Garfunkle meltdown.
Main Attrakionz, Bossalinis & Fooliyones (Young One)
This actively hyped Bay Area duo kick things off promisingly enough, dropping a blunt-soaked Cali anthem that demands listeners and hangers-on to “slow bounce to this,” and indeed it’s hard not to. Plus, their thematic concerns get laid out effortlessly within the first few minutes - weed, sizzurp, blow jobs, the game, the art of chillin’. But sixteen tracks later, the monotony of midtempo beats, corny keyboard figures, and defiantly off-key lazed delivery of both Squadda B and Mondre M.A.N. have morphed into one shapeless low end nod. Minimal hip-hop is worth aspiring towards, but this makes Barnett Newman look like a fussbudget.