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January/February 2008

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

Little Things Run the World, the nifty new CD from bassist Ben Allison and his band Man Size Safe, offers an Americana that’s hard to put a finger on. Sometimes they mine a multiethnic, Southwestern vein; other times it’s the folk of the Heartland. But the American tradition’s real presence lies in the album’s aura of darkness and mystery. Although Ron Horton’s trumpet dominates, Allison’s ax is always prominent—not for him the axiom that audiences shouldn’t notice bass players. It’s Allison who generates the disc’s moodiness, his simple vamps intertwining with Steve Cardenas’ guitar and Michael Sarin’s subtle drums (as on “Four Folk Songs” and “Blowback”) to undertow Horton’s (and occasionally saxophonist Michael Blake) lovely, storyteller-like melodic lines.

If Americana is a key ingredient, it’s no less important than the jazz and rock that pervade the music. Jazz is obvious in the instrumentation, playing styles and compositions. Rock’s influence seems weakest at first, but listen again: Apart from the rhythms, what rock gives Allison’s music is its immediacy—dig the emotional wallop of the apparently quiet “Roll Credits”—and ultimately a bite that distinguishes this album from the recent spate of roots-music-influenced jazz albums. Of course rock also loans out its patron saint, John Lennon, whose “Jealous Guy” provides the album’s biggest smile. That combination of folk intrigue, jazz sophistication and rock ’n’ roll punch is a rare but entirely welcome one. The overarching effect of Little Things is that it makes the mouth water for what Allison might do next.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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