Wednesday, March 4, 1998

Gimcracks & Gewgaws

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Once heard, Mose Allison's approach to the art of jazz song is unmistakable. You can hear the influence in singers like Bob Dorough, Van Morrison and Ben Sidran, the producer of Allison's most recent disc. The phrasing has a lurching backbeat all its own, half juke, half jive. Clever wordplay wraps around a blues riff before giving way to piano-propelled instrumental breaks that can remind one of an out of control Cecil Taylor on Percodan.

On the new album, Allison's Mississippi-bred originality and his urbane groove sheath a rapier wit alongside the soul of a hip gentleman. He still comes up with astute observations on the human condition, edits them with a sardonic edge and sets them free to amuse the astute.

That said, on Gimcracks and Gewgaws, Allison is forging a mutant double handful of re-created standards and other good stuff with his usual flair. At times he's a southern Lord Buckley, regaling the listener with quirky tales of life's absurdities as in "The More You Get" or "Somebody Gonna Have To Move." Then there's the Allison who writes a classic lonely ballad like "Texanna," the kind of thing that Tom Waits could love, or comes up with "Old Man Blues," the answer song to his own magnum opus, "Young Man Blues" -- the same tune that the Who covered.

The work drummer Paul Motian and bassist Ratzo Harris do on this album is muy simpatico, with subtle, percolating Motian brushing the beat behind the exuberant virtuosity of Harris' bottom line on the title tune. Guitarist Russell Malone is driven by Allison's tunes and phrasing to play some of the most adventurous, blue-tinged stuff (check out his turns on "St. Louis Blues" and the title tune) he has done in years. Mark Shim, the tenor on the date, is the relative "newbie" here, but the 23-year-old Shim is starting a solid career, as verified by his stints with Betty Carter and the Mingus Dynasty Band.

Garaud McTaggart writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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