Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.
Luther Allison seemed to be on a roll when he died in 1998. He was back home after many years in Europe, and was winning awards and making a good living. This, his debut album, was cut in 1969 when he was 30 years old. He sang as if barely able to keep a lid on his emotion, and the elegance and precision of his guitar playing belied the fact that he had only been playing the instrument for a few years. If this debut can be faulted it's only in that it relies too heavily on overfamiliar standards like "Little Red Rooster," "Five Long Years," "Dust My Broom," "Sky Is Crying," and "Every Night About This Time." The CD reissue has been expanded with alternate takes and bonus cuts.
Bernard Allison got some valuable advice from his father, Luther, before the latter's death in 1997: "Don't be afraid to go outside of the blues," he said. "Don't let them label you like they did me." Bernard has obviously taken that advice to heart; his solo albums have been a rich mixture of rock, funk, blues, and R&B. Most of his recordings have been released in Europe, where he has made his home for a decade. The release of Higher Power comes a little while after his return to the States, and reflects a lifetime of both good times and bad.