Alicia Hansen & Ben Brown's Companion is good company

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      Alicia Hansen & Ben Brown
      Companion (Independent)

      One of the more beautiful things about the local jazz/improv/creative music scene is its generational inclusivity: witness Pugs & Crows’ ongoing collaboration with mentor Tony Wilson, or the Hard Rubber Orchestra’s ability to encompass both recent music-school grads and seasoned greybeards. Singer-pianist Alicia Hansen and Pugs drummer Ben Brown and are doing something similar, but they’ve brought some older players onboard for this project, and the music benefits.

      It doesn’t hurt that the veterans are cellist Peggy Lee and guitarist Dave Sikula, themselves noted for their ability to bridge genre, gender, and generational gaps. (Bassist Russell Sholberg, another Pug, rounds out the quintet.) It’s also likely that principal composer Hansen’s fondness for grey-sky atmospherics owes something to Lee’s similarly meditative, oceanic approach with her own influential sextet.

      But the music here can also display harder, sharper edges than is the Vancouver norm, and when Hansen turns her focus toward art-pop songwriting, the results are beguiling. “Unrequited”, in particular, is a touching study of romantic longing, with enough steel in Hansen’s melody—and resolve in her voice—that it never descends into mawkish sentimentality.

      Companion certainly isn’t party music, and it might even be too dark for a sunny day, but in this bleak midwinter it’s good company.