Playscape PSR#J111401

Veteran bassist Mario Pavone better watch out. His writing and playing could breathe new life to the standard jazz piano trio format, which in other hands is mired in predictability. Of course, as this eye-opening CD, split between trio and quintet tracks shows, he may also be able to do the same for the traditional two-horns-and-rhythm jazz quintet.

What does Pavone have that others lack? Well, for a start, it’s experience. At 62, he’s been involved in modern genres that encompassed screaming energy music, calm modern composition and creative freebop, finally settling on his mixture of sound and silence. Influenced by the approach of intellectual playing partners like multi-reedist Anthony Braxton and pianist Paul Bley, Pavone was heavily involved in the group sound created in the 1970s and 1980s by his contemporaries such as drummer Gerry Hemingway, brassman Wadada Leo Smith and multi-woodwind player Thomas Chapin.

Heading his own bands of various sizes during the last decade, he’s mentored younger players such as pianist Peter Madsen and drummer Michael Sarin, who appear on this disc. Both, along with the other sidepeople — trumpeter Steven Bernstein, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and Matt Wilson, who splits drum duties with Sarin — are inside/outside musicians as comfortable in a regular jazz settings as experimental improv situations.

Bernstein, who also leads his own Sex Mob, arranged the quintet numbers, and brings his peculiar PoMo insouciance to them. The title track, for instance, written like all other tunes except for two, by Pavone, is constructed as three duos. First up is the trumpeter’s plunger mute wiggles mated to the bassist’s solid tones; then Malaby extracts hairy-chested basso tones from the bottom of his horn as Sarin pumps out bass rolls; finally the pianist’s right hand skittering tickles and sliding runs come to the fore, as Pavone’s plucks are as unvarying as if he used an electric bass, and which serve to reintroduce the theme voiced by unison horns.

Malaby and Sarin can handle quirky bass-led tunes like this one and “Diode” with ease, having functioned as the other parts of bassist Mark Helias’s trio. For seven years, Sarin and Pavone were also the rhythm section of Chapin’s band. Still, the late reedman’s “Sky Piece” seems straighter in conception that one remembers from his playing, with its tension and release vamps spelled by a top-string pizzicato solo from Pavone and feathery impressionistic chords from Madsen. Firmly anchored to Bill Evans, and the beauty expressed by his former boss Stan Getz, it’s hard to reconcile that with the reality that the keyboardist’s sidemen duties often take him out with Fred Wesley and the JB Horns.

As if to compensate, his negotiation of the irregular — let’s say it — crab-like, angular turnarounds that make up Richard Twardzik’s “Crutch for the Crab” practically turn that trio outing into a mini piano concerto. An advanced thinker in the Herbie Nichols-Lennie Tristano mode, Twardzik wrote this unique line in 1954, a year before he ODed while on a European tour with Chet Baker. With Wilson and Pavone strongly seconding him, Madsen explores every diamond-like facet of the composition, easily tying sub themes together. Later on “Isobars”, with its pumping Latinesque beat, the pianist even comes across with a weird amalgam of Bill Evan’s delicacy and Ramsey Lewis’s steam roller swing.

Elsewhere, Wilson, a regular associate of tenor man Dewey Redman, can be as unrelenting in his kit exploration as the Energizer Bunny — and still find time for a rim shots solo. Meanwhile Sarin, who put in time with pianist Myra Melford’s quintet, can allow Pavone to indulge his nunanced ballad playing in the highest registers on the short “Fablet”, by gently providing nothing heavier than percussive coloring to the mix.

If fault must be found with any part of the CD, it’s that a few too many of the tracks end with a fade, rather than letting the tunes finish logically and satisfactorily. Other than that, it would be hard for anyone to find a better example of unclichéd modern jazz, directed by a old hand and featuring young musicians who really know their stuff.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Diode^# 2. Dialect* 3. Odeon* 4. Sky Piece# 5. Mythos^ #6. Crutch for the Crab* 7. Dancers Tales* 8. Interlude^# 9. Isobars* 10. Fablet# 11. And Then We Wrote*

Personnel: Steven Bernstein (trumpet)^; Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone)^; Peter Madsen (piano); Mario Pavone (bass); Matt Wilson* or Michael Sarin# (drums)