With Cowboy Justice (Palmetto‚ 2006)‚ Ben Allison gave the world something it hasn't seen since the days of Gil-Scott Heron: A jazz-based protest record. While Little Things Run the World isn't (completely) political‚ its energy and creativity is definitely comparable with Allison's earlier‚ venom-drenched denunciation of the Dubya administration.
Steve Cardenas' short‚ in-the-clear solo starts "Respiration" off easy before the rest of the band steers the piece into a pulsing Latin groove. Ron Horton lays down a plaintive melody as Allison and Cardenas weave around him; Michael Sarin's brushes hiss like snakes while Horton's trumpet gains serious strength and Cardenas' guitar snaps and flashes like a loose power cable. At the end‚ Horton's horn howls over Cardenas' high end‚ as if the trumpet is demanding that someone pay attention to it right this minute.
Mind you‚ it's impossible to ignore anything on Little Things. Like Charles Mingus -- another politically-aware bassist -- Allison's compositions have a volcanic quality that makes them bad for background music‚ but great for having a hella good time. "Four Folk Songs" is a bruising mini-opera that propels you through scenes bursting with passion; "Roll Credits" is an evocative score for a Western hero's final scene‚ while "Blowback" samples the bad karma that "good intentions" can bring. Michael Blake's soprano sax adds a touch of fear to "Blowback‚" while his tenor injects a little bit of soul to the relentless title track.
Allison makes no bones about wishing he'd written Cardenas' bitter blues "Language of Love" -- one of only two tunes where Allison allows himself a thick‚ rich solo. His reverence for John Lennon is evident on "Jealous Guy‚" even as Allison morphs Lennon's protagonist into a paranoid stalker. The antonym for reverence fuels "Man Size Safe‚" the latest chapter in Allison's self-described Dick Cheney Suite. After this‚ Allison should avoid going hunting with Cheney for the foreseeable future.
Still‚ there's more to life than politics‚ no matter what Fox News spews. Little Things shows there's plenty to be passionate about‚ including the news that real Jazz Fusion is alive‚ well‚ and eager to wake the neighbors.
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