Ben Allison: Peace Pipe (2002)
This is a novelty jazz recording. That does not make it a bad recording. It simply makes it a marketing and listening challenge for the more conservative jazz listener. It is a tough sell to introduce obscure instruments into the mainstream of jazz much less those foreign to anglophilic ears. The kora is an established African stringed instrument that enjoys a widespread popularity in Africa and has been used in crossover to Western popular music. When played, the sound recalls the soundtrack to Casablanca.
Having said that, the results are quite enjoyable. Allison and his merry band of musicians have made their way through challenging territory many times before, each time with creative results. Peace Pipe is no exception. One gets nowhere not taking chances and Allison take a big one here, and mostly wins.
The rhythmic character of this recording owes much to African tradition. Allison skillfully melds this influence with mainstream jazz. The inclusion of Michael Blake's saxophones and Frank Kimbrough's piano firmly hold the recording in the Western jazz realm, while the internal forces of Allison, kora player Diabate, and drummer Sarin collectively spin the music centripetally into the outer world. This generic tension affords a highly enjoyable, but idiosyncratic record.
As has been pointed out by my collegues, "World Music" is a label ethnocentriclly applied for us listeners to gain a grasp on what we might be hearing. It is a clumsy label at best. Music is music, and it is our obligation to always remember that. One of the critic's duties is to evaluate the music in the light of what listening population might find the music appealing.
It would be easy to dismiss Peace Pipe as a jazz"World Music" crossover. But that would short change the experience of hearing this fine recording. So, addressing the more conservative ears, purchase Peace Pipe at your own risk. But, by all means, take the risk.
Track Listing: Third Rail; Slap Happy; Peace Pipe; Dakan; Goin
Personnel: Ben Allison