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Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run The World

Troy Collins By

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On his eighth album, Little Things Run The World, bassist/composer Ben Allison delves further into the cinematic Americana explored on his previous release, Cowboy Justice (Palmetto, 2007). Inspired by a quote from biodiversity expert E.O. Wilson, the album features a selection of multi-layered tunes that rely on structural interdependency as much as the social organisms Wilson studied.

Naming the ensemble Man Size Safe, after a news item about the ominous item located in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, Allison expresses his dissatisfaction with the current political climate through titling—similar to a previous era's socially active jazz bassist, Charles Mingus. Like his conceptual forefather, Allison transposes his frustration with current events into emotionally complex works of great beauty.

Allison's facility for conjuring lush soundscapes from a limited instrumental palette places him in a rarefied league. Bittersweet melodies, rich contrapuntal harmonies and syncopated cross-rhythms all coalesce under the banner of jazz improvisation. An unclassifiable sound, Allison offers a buoyantly optimistic view of American music informed by non-Western traditions.

Augmenting the former album's instrumental line-up with a guest appearance from saxophonist Michael Blake, Allison is rejoined by trumpeter Ron Horton and guitarist Steve Cardenas, with drummer Michael Sarin replacing Jeff Ballard. Seamlessly integrated into his acoustic writing, Allison's recent foray into the electro-acoustic world reveals an organic mastery over pop song structures and timbres.

Allison's embrace of rock and pop devices is more dominant than before, courtesy (in part) of guitarist Steve Cardenas. "Respiration" and "Man Size Safe" feature concise but searing guitar solos, with Cardenas releasing a fractured, churning salvo on the former, burning with surgical focus on the later. Offering a variety of tonal colors beyond brittle distortion, he unfurls kaleidoscopic textures on the jaunty Afro-pop of "Four Folk Songs" and paints with a shimmering Spanish patina on "Roll Credits."

Ron Horton, the ensemble's key voice, contributes a multitude of expressions, ranging from mellifluous tenderness on Cardenas' Frisellian "Language Of Love" to blustery pyrotechnics on the punchy "Man Size Safe." Guest saxophonist Michael Blake delivers an architecturally robust tenor solo on the title track, and switching to soprano on "Blowback," dovetailing seamlessly with Horton as they spiral through a dreamy, melancholy vamp of escalating drama.

One of today's most creative drummers, Mike Sarin's long-established rapport with Allison enables their graceful navigation of the stop-start rhythms, unusual time signatures and intricate syncopation of these elaborate tunes.

From their bluesy interpretation of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" and the lilting euphony of "Roll Credits" to the anthemic swell of the title track, Man Size Safe demonstrates how beautiful sanguinity can be derived from dark source material. Accessible and adventurous, Little Things Run The World offers the sound of hope in a world that needs all it can get.

Track Listing: Respiration; Little Things Run The World; Four Folk Songs; Language Of Love; Roll Credits; Blowback; Jealous Guy; Man Size Safe.

Personnel: Ben Allison: bass, acoustic guitar; Ron Horton: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Cardenas: electric guitar; Michael Sarin: drums; Michael Blake: tenor saxophone (2, 8), soprano saxophone (6).

Title: Little Things Run The World | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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