Friday, November 28, 2008

Ben Allison’s ‘Man Size Safe’ Quintet - London Jazz Festival day 7

Pizza Express Soho, 20th November 2008

An intriguing band name for starters. “Apparently Dick Cheney has a man size safe in his office, something I find both comical and scary” bandleader and double bass player Ben Allison informed us. 'Man Size Safe' is Allison’s folk americana outlet, with tonight’s set featuring most of the tracks from their new album, ‘Little Things Run The World’. Totally engaging the tunes are too, capturing the audience's attention within seconds of the first track’s slouchy groove shuffling itself into the air space. It was heartening to see guitarist Steve Cárdenas embracing unextended open string chords, all too often dismissed as ‘cowboy chords’ by some jazz guitar players. The harmonic progressions were deceptively sophisticated, leading us down well trodden folk and country music paths before yanking us sideways, and prodding us with angular stabs.

Sax player Michael Blake excelled on the twitchy ‘Respiration’, his nervous squeals instilling a real sense of fear and foreboding. We were taken down gently by the sparse blues beauty of ‘The Language of Love’, this time trumpet player Ron Horton taking his chance to snarl his spurned love story at us with some fine edgy playing.

‘Roll Credits’ reaffirmed the influence of modern americana songwriting on the group sound. Paul Cárdenas’ guitar once again surprised us with a cross between a slurry John Scofield and the clipped rock n’ roll of Scotty Moore. It’s great to hear music clearly operating within the jazz/improvisational space, but without feeling the need to be reverential of the classic American songbook and swing/bebop.

The band closed with a track taking the group’s name, ‘Man Size Safe’. The tune switched between a neat metrically placed melody line, and some majestic free funk. The lithe grooves shimmying out from the limbs of drummer Michael Sarin were reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers at his best. A tasty and most satisfying accompaniment to a spicy Pizza Americana.

Review reproduced courtesy of the London Jazz Festival and Jazzwise Magazine.

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