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Ben Allison: Cowboy Justice

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Bassist Ben Allison’s new album is a political statement as well as an artistic one. And his politics are decidedly Democratic. Without uttering a single word-OK, maybe in his liner notes he pens a few-Allison takes aim at Bush, Cheney and the rest of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

His quartet introduces elements of rock into its jazz right away on “Tricky Dick,” a mischievous ode to the vice president marked by the infectious, varied drumming of Jeff Ballard. Spanish influences like flamenco and bolero seem to inform the playing of trumpeter Ron Horton here and throughout the disc, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the whole band listened to the spaghetti-Western themes of Ennio Morricone as they prepared to record Cowboy Justice.

Allison sets a great groove for the funkrock-jazz stew of “Emergency,” a musical commentary on Bush’s handling of 9/11 that spotlights some great blues lines from guitarist Steve Cardenas. John Barry’s theme to Midnight Cowboy, which Allison says “takes on new meaning for me today,” gets a wry, galloping treatment. The atmosphere lightens toward the end of the album, which includes the lovely lullaby “Ruby’s Roundabout,” dedicated to the bassist’s 2-year-old daughter.

Allison isn’t a flashy musician. He doesn’t take many solos, and he doesn’t show off. His strength lies in composing, leading and putting out great records like Cowboy Justice-which you probably don’t have to hate the President to love.