Ben Allison & Man Size Safe – Little Things Run the World – Palmetto Records

Ben Allison & Man Size Safe – Little Things Run the World – Palmetto Records PM 2131, 53:30 *****:

(Ben Allison – alto sax; Ron Horton – trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Cardinas – electric guitar; Michael Blake – tenor, soprano sax)

Bassist Ben Allison is among the most important living jazz musicians.  As a founding member of the Jazz Composers Collective, a not-for-profit organization in New York City advancing the art of and giving exposure to some of the brighter young jazz musicians, he is responsible for helping to give voice to such important players as saxophonist Michael Blake, pianist Frank Kimbrough, drummers Jeff Ballard and Michael Sarin, and trombonist Frank Gayton. 

His group Medicine Wheel recorded a number of important discs, most recently, Buzz, widely regarded as a classic.  Little Things Rule the World, his second recording with his band Man Size Safe, continues to showcase his important contributions to the world of jazz.  The basic line up of guitar, trumpet, bass, and drums, augmented by tenor sax on several numbers, is unusual for jazz.  The guitar-trumpet front line has seldom been exploited by jazz musicians, although the brilliant but relatively obscure Canadian band Talking Pictures comes to mind.  As appears to be increasingly the case among jazz musicians, politics plays a role in the music of this band.  The name of the group, Man Size Safe, comes from a Washington Post notice revealing that Vice President Dick Cheney is in possession of a “man size safe.”  This oddity somehow becomes a metaphor for Allison to launch a musical critique of Cheney’s policies, especially vis-à-vis Iraq.  Nothing wrong with that, one supposes, but isn’t it a little over the top?  Why name your group after a politician’s quirk? 

Despite this disc’s political flamboyance, the music is beyond reproach.  Two numbers, the opener “Respiration” and “Four Folk Songs,” are reworkings of previously recorded songs from Medicine Wheel discs.  “Respiration,” which opened Buzz, gets a fairly straight-forward treatment, retaining the ominous undercurrent of the original while adding a beguiling rhythmic thrust.  “Four Folk Songs” surpasses the original from Third Eye with its refined craziness.  Ron Horton’s trumpet and Cardenas’s guitar mesh seamlessly on this attractive feature.  The faux-mariachi vibe of “Roll Credits” makes a strong impression as does the incipient restlessness of “Blowback.”  A true paranoia suffuses “Man Size Safe,” with some quite ominous guitar musings, but this reviewer, at least, wonders if it accurately reflects a true state of being or just the musicians’ overactive imaginations.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  All in all, a very strong outing, further securing Ben Allison’s place in the current jazz Pantheon.  

Tracklist: Respiration, Little Things Run the World, Four Folk Songs, Language of Love, Roll Credits, Blowback, Jealous Guy, Man Size Safe

– Jan P. Dennis
 

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