Among the legions of musicians that play in a style often called free jazz, very few of them are trombonists.
AACM vet George Lewis is probably the first one that comes to mind, with Albert Mangelsdorf and Steve Swell
being uncovered after further brainracking.
So Brian Allen is one of the few, with five releases to his name, and a backlog of performances with people like
Anthony Braxton, Ellery Eskelin and Roswell Rudd (another 'bone man, though not someone who still takes
On Synapse, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby (Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, among others) and drummer
Tom Rainey (almost everyone, most recently with Tim Berne and Mark Feldman) join him for eight tracks that
presumably were totally improvised. All three players receive writing credits and most of the albums sounds like
two- and three-way conversations where moods are expressed rather than musical structures. The whole
album (which lasts 50 minutes) could very well have been one continuous performance banded into separate
Allen doesn't get caught up exploring his instrument's flatulent possibilities (one personal turn-off with free
brass players), instead concentrating on the mid-range, with which he displays a brawny tone and a strong
melodic sense even in the freer moments. Without any chordal instruments to ground them, Allen and Malaby
could have easily opted for stratospheric blowing. But that doesn't come until the second half of the 12-minute
closer "Espancino." Before that, they engage in a pointed dialogue ("Tageshif"), egg each other on
("Briesrock") and keep things spare to create suspense ("Tenrayle"). Rainey again proves himself to be a
drummer who can both support a band and build ideas around them as they play.
Steven Byram, who has designed many an a CD cover for Tim Berne, has done the same for the cover of
Synapse. His unhinged style, which captures the essense of the music inside, is highly distinctive, and hopefully
free fans who recognize it will be compelled grab Allen's work off the rack and check it out.
Mike Shanley, ShanleyOnMusic
BRIAN ALLEN WITH TONY MALABY AND TOM RAINEY - SYNAPSE REVIEW
from Shanley on Music (http://shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com/)