Album review: The ishs/Allen Project

The ishs/Allen Project (independent release AIM07)
The ishs/Allen Project

Review by John Hardaker

ishs allen2When I reviewed Melbourne pianist/composer ade ish’s Trio album a little over a year ago I said that his playing ‘reminds me – although they are vastly different players technically and stylistically – of Dave Brubeck (of all people). The smile that is across his solos, the sometimes pugilistic attack, the open-heartedness, never afraid to play pretty but also never afraid to drop a dissonance, sweet-and-sour – the things I love about dear departed Dave I also love about ade ishs.’

That joyous Bru-vibe is reinforced on the eponymous debut album of his new project with drummer Chelsea Allen, who also played on the Trio recording. Reinforced, painted in higher relief and expanded upon.

The ishs/Allen Project has moved in a texturally tougher direction, bringing in electric bassist Paul Bonnington and brass player Ee Shan Pang. Yet this toughness gladly doesn’t bruise the music; it largely serves to add energy to the inherent exuberance of ish’s and Allen’s music.

Drummer Allen’s influence across the ten tracks is marked as The ishs/Allen Project has a heart that beats deep rhythm thoroughout. The pretty ‘Welcoming Spring’ jumps out with a bright Latin groove, moving in and out of odd time signatures with loose-limbed ease. ish’s solo here dextrously moves among the tricky pulses like a strong swimmer mastering changing ocean currents. Allen’s solo against the band’s figures is full-blooded and equally joyous.

‘Above the Desert’ has Shan Pang’s Miles-ish trumpet over a funky pedal-point groove, and ‘Little Flower’ is a Steely Dan flavoured cousin to Freddie’s ‘Little Sunflower’. Rhythm and groove abounds.

‘Understanding’ was a solo standout on the previous Trio recording, and here the arching melody gets the full band treatment, augmented by ishs’ and Allen’s wordless vocal texture. This device vocal (male and female harmonising in octaves) is also used on the rhapsodic ‘Handholding’ to great effect – it reminds me of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral from the 50s and some of the vocal experiments of the 70s such as McCoy Tyner’s ‘Inner Voices’ – balmy, warm and lush.

The uniqueness of the vocal thing shows the originality of the arrangements here – ishs and Allen use anything at their disposal to realise the tune at hand. ‘Science’ opens with molecular piano notes under Shan Pang’s trumpet intro before moving into a robust diatonic melody (the sort Keith Jarrett used to do when his afro was bigger). ‘Train’ builds its Latin groove a beat at a time until it rolls off under its own humid steam. ‘Veiled Beauty’ takes the jazz ballad to a new place, more colour than shape – very sensitively done.

The closing tune, a nostalgic co-write between the band leaders titled ‘Guildford Lane’ after where they met, has Shan Pang laying out. Piano and drums paint a sepia tone-poem that is emblematic of what is good and right about this group.

Too much current jazz can be wilfully challenging and self-consciously outré. Often this approach leaves emotion and human connection behind, as if in fear that simple and direct expression in some way devalues the art.

The music of ade ishs – and now the music he makes on this album with Chelsea Allen – is far from simple, yet the expression is direct and heartfelt. There are moments when it can become almost too pretty, but that is the risk one takes if making your music inclusive and not exclusive to your fellow human beings.

Dave Brubeck, when studying with French composer Darius Milhaud, was told by the modern master to never be afraid of a good simple melody. And that never did Bru any harm at all, either.


ade ishs: piano, voice
Chelsea Allen: drums, voice
Paul Bonnington: semi-acoustic and electric bass
Ee Shan Pang: trumpet, flugelhorn, voice

Listen and purchase

The ishs/Allen Project will be launched 4 March 2015 at Paris Cat Jazz Club, Melbourne


The ishs/Allen Project website is

View the launch event details on the Paris Cat website