Cowboy Justice is bassist Ben Allison's direct musical retort to the George W. Bush administration's handling of the U.S. post-9/11. Mincing no words or notes, Allison and his strong quartet make statements in rock and funk modes with jazz sensibilities, based on his feeling about how the government botched nearly everything to the point where his America became unrecognizable. Trumpeter Ron Horton harnesses some sort of anger or frustration, playing in a somewhat constrained but not shout-down manner as he constructs lead melodies and complex lines. Electric guitarist Steve Cardenas is an emerging voice at this time in his career and accents Horton's anguish, while drummer Jeff Ballard lays down beats either pedestrian, in waltz tempo, or stomping. Allison is the ringmaster without proclaiming it, working from within to express his outraged viewpoint in a controlled, measured instrumental voice. There are pieces like "Tricky Dick" -- for Vice President Dick Cheney -- that reflect the plucky, sneaky, worrisome nature of the person it is written about, while "Talking Heads" is a sad and weary song about the incessant nature of television pundits, perfectly translated into music. Several of these selections are reworked from past years or other Allison albums. "Hey Man" takes up reggae shuffle or silent spaces in a tribute to Charlie Haden as Cardenas and Horton are in firm agreement playing together, "Weazy" takes the Bill Frisell country and Eastern concept to a different level, and the static "Blabbermouth" is another reworking from previous ideas. The "Midnight Cowboy" theme is slowed in 3/4 time, modified from the John Barry film theme for Jon Voight; "Emergency" is a chopped-up melody with a rocked-out, near R&B beat by Ballard evoking anger of the government's tepid response to 9/11; while the contrasting "Tricky Rides Again" is a developed improvisation with Ballard and Cardenas leading the way, evoking the subtle arrogance of both Cheney and the first "Tricky Dick," Richard Nixon. The one non-political statement, "Ruby's Roundabout," is for Allison's daughter, a circular chain of melodies that expresses the playful yet dizzying side of a child's mind. This project represents Allison's perspective of how America has been recast, not how it should be. Horton's ribald and sharp-edged trumpet in the middle of this music -- via Allison's direction -- tells a strong tale of nonviolent protest about the buffoonery and subterfuge of the George W. Bush years, and how our country is not better off for it.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos