The Jazz.com Blog
April 06, 2008 · 0 comments
It’s hard to make predictions about 2008 when we are barely into April. But I feel safe in asserting that Ben Allison’s latest CD Little Things Run the World will be recognized as one of the finest releases of the year. I know I am not alone in this sentiment. This CD is generating lots of buzz -- supported by that best type of marketing, good, old-fashioned word of mouth.
Now Jazz.com’s Ralph Miriello contributes this review of bassist Allison’s performance with his band Man Size Safe, featuring Michael Blake on tenor, Ron Horton on trumpet, Steve Cardenas on electric guitar and Michael Sarin on drums. T.G.
In an almost hidden, well appointed, wood-paneled performance room, on the lower level of the main building of the massive Brooklyn Public Library, located at Grand Army Plaza, Carnegie Hall presents a series free to the public concerts. This night it was the fine current band of bassist/composer Ben Allison with his tongue-in-cheek named band Man Size Safe.
The name is a reference to a Wall Street Journal report that Vice President Dick Cheney, apparently a favorite foil of the young bassist, has a man-sized safe in his office for some mysterious purpose. Perhaps the vice president uses it to hide in when some of his hipper staff is eagerly playing the music of this cutting edge group through the hallowed halls of the White House. Nevertheless this was one immensely satisfying performance.
Ben Allison & Man Size Safe
The group is made up of what is perhaps the most talented, slightly under-the-radar, band of musicians playing together on the jazz scene today. Each member, in his own right, deserves wider recognition and appreciation for his artistry and musical prowess. Ben Allison is the leader of this particular iteration – a group whose musicians have been playing together in many different combinations and with other equally talented artists for some time now around the New York jazz scene. In this band, Allison is joined by guitarist Steve Cardenas, trumpeter Ron Horton, multi-reed player Michael Blake and drummer Michael Sarin. Together they create a sound that is new, vital and provocative.
To be sure, bassist/composer Allison must be given high praise for his ability to compose such complex yet interesting pieces of music. His music seems to be painting a picture lending itself to visual imagery, but like a fine film score it stands on its own even without any actual pictorial content . He is able to provoke this mind trick because of the unusually symbiotic playing of his troupe. In a discussion with guitarist Steve Cardenas before the show, he commented on how his association with this group was the wellspring for a new song that he was currently working on. Another Cardenas composition “Language of Love” which is on the new album Little Things Run the World was a perfect example of how these musicians communicate so effortlessly and interchangeably. On this particular number Allison was especially animated in his attack on his upright bass, spurred on by the song’s beautiful melody. Throughout the evening the near capacity crowd was treated to the transfer of high intensity energy and enjoyment that was evidently flowing so freely between these musicians. They clearly like playing together and it showed.
Perhaps their disparate backgrounds make all the difference in the world. While each of these players is currently based in and around New York, this group is nonetheless distinguished by its geographical diversity. Sarin is originally from Seattle, Blake from Montreal, Horton from Maryland, Cardenas from Kansas City and Allison from New Haven. Like so many great groups of the past that come magically together by the alignment of the musical stars, this group is now on a path to make jazz history.
The music is compelling, intricate and unique. The rhythm section of Allison, Sarin and Cardenas is in the zone. Sarin’s polyrhythmic use of a relatively small set of traps to create a multitude of percussive colors from seemingly nothing is extraordinary. Horton at times sounding as melodious and tonally pure as the late Art Farmer, can also extract the most eerie human wails from the high register of his trumpet. Blake’s sensual tenor can equally span the range of emotionally evocative to spookily human with its guttural incantations.
On one tune called “Wheezy,” an Allison penned ode to the old sit-com music of the seventies, Blake’s soprano solo was so inspired that his face was crimson with intensity. Cardenas’s playing is slyly understated. His command of the fret board is substantial but he chooses his notes and chording carefully and executes impeccably. In addition to his fine compositions, Cardenas’ discordant comping along with Allison’s infectious bass lines provides the platform for the groups solo explorations. Allison’s enthusiasm as he dances around his bass, prodded on by the musical surprises that come from his band mates, is joyful. He was equally nonplussed by the enthusiastic air-drumming accompaniment of a small child in the front row of the audience. He simply reveled in the musical exuberance so innocently displayed by the young fan.
The show lasted slightly over an hour included four songs from the latest album and one from his previous Cowboy Justice album in addition to the tune “Weezy”. At the conclusion the audience stood clapping enthusiastically for a well-deserved encore.
Musical synchronicity like this does not happen often and when it does it unfortunately has a limited shelf life. For those who want to experience the very best in new and exciting music on the scene today I encourage you to catch Ben Allison’s Man Size Safe while it is touring. They are even more exciting live than on record. I also recommend keeping a close eye on each of these rising stars of jazz whenever and wherever they choose to play.
This blog entry posted by Ralph A. Miriello.