[24 January 2008]
New York-based jazz composer and bassist Ben Allison writes highly-melodic, evocative jazz tunes that draw from rock, pop, R&B and 1960s instrumentals, but still stay true to jazz. On Little Things Run the World, the “Downbeat” magazine favorite and his newest group, Man Size Safe, team with guest saxophonist Michael Blake. The quintet blows through eight numbers that run the gamut from Latin-tinged excursions (“Respiration”) to rock-styled workouts (“Blowback”) to multi-part, multi-genre extravaganzas (“Four Folk Songs”). Allison underpins each tune with complex, probing upright bass lines while letting Blake and trumpet and flugelhorn player Ron Horton handle most of the melody. Allison’s style, it’s been noted, is unique in that it’s not hard core improvisational jazz or Kenny G-like easy listening. In a way, Allison is a classicist, mainly drawing from the late 1950s style of Miles Davis and the languid, bittersweet writing of Billy Strayhorn in the 1940s. What keeps him from being a revivalist is the fact that he incorporates modern influences, one being his cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. This CD, his eighth, finds him typically referencing works of science (the title refers to a book by biologist E.O. Wilson) and politics (the band’s name references a purported oddball object in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office). Since you can’t really say much politically on an all-instrumental CD, titles and band names are pretty much all Allison has to gets his non-musical points across. But you don’t really need to know that to groove to these harmonically-rich, exquisitely played compositions.