Mario Pavone

Vertical
Clean Feed CF 423 CD

Mario Pavone Dialect Trio

Chrome

Playscape Recordings PSR #060316

Moving into his eighth decade, bassist Mario Pavone still maintains the organizational and compositional smarts that have characterized his career as a musical partner with players as different as reedists Anthony Braxton and Thomas Chapin as well as pianist Paul Bley and guitarist Michael Musillami. Like writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and John O’Hara, whose later fiction was at least as eminent as their work as younger scribblers, one could say Pavone has improved with age.

On the evidence of these CDs, however, he isn’t taking as many solos. But one reason may be that he’s surrounded himself with a top-flight crew of younger improvisers. His partners on Chrome, for instance are pianist Matt Mitchell, known for his work with Tim Berne, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who has played with just about everyone on the New York scene. Dialect is the bassist’s working trio; nevertheless Vertical shows what he can do with an expanded ensemble. Piano-less and with long-time associate Michael Sarin on drums, the sextet’s other members are experienced players like Dave Ballou on trumpet, Peter McEachern on trombone, clarinetist Oscar Noriega and saxophonist Tony Malaby. Recorded less than two weeks apart there are more connections between the discs. Ballou came up with superlative arrangements for four of the nine trio tunes; and “Ellipse” is interpreted by both groups.

Doubled-down and squirmy with a Monkish cast, the trio version appears to be careening into new areas, but boomerangs back to the initial theme via Miller’s slippery comping and the even-handed treatment of the rhythm section. With horn added, the theme of “Ellipse” becomes asymmetrical, with translucent layers expressed by a furry soprano-sax solo from Malaby and polished tone variations from Noriega. Ballou’s trumpet obbligato preserves the melody, with the piece climaxing in a contrapuntal face-off from Ballou’s plunger tones and guitar-like strokes from Pavone’s bass.

With the trio members functioning like interdependent lines of a triangle, the key to the performance is the bassist’s laid-back approach. His bass lines can’t always be heard, but they can always be felt. “Conic” for instance, is a romp built out of close-knit keyboard chording and bumping drum rolls, with sweeping piano fingering making its point seconded by walking bass. Mitchell’s stop-start variations on “Beige” are anything but pale. Digging into the piano innards an emerging with a cousin to Randy Weston’s “High Fly” and Weston’s influence, Thelonious Monk, the piano drama is focused and made more obvious by the heartfelt string bomps from Pavone. With glisses or glides on strings or full-throttle bounces and pops, Pavone varies strategies on pieces such as “Glass” and “Ancestors”. The former features the bassist retreating to the background to better showcase Mitchell’s constantly evolving interpretation. The latter centres on a repeated vamp that passes among the three, with the narrative jumped into swing form by Sorey’s drum slaps and decorated rococo by the pianist. The combination of Ballou’s arrangement and Pavone’s writing makes “The Lizards (for Jim Jarmusch)” a standout. Moving crab-like, prodded by Pavone’s string sizzles and Sorey’s rolling smacks, Mitchell’s pin-pointed interpretation creates the feeling of ambulatory slither. Later a unique splashed out rhythm propels the piece to a mid-range finale that recalls the Maghreb and mystery.

There’s no mystery to the presentation on Vertical, although as pledged the four horns give the 11 compositions more of a straightforward vertical feel than the horizontal-directed playing of the trio. This verticality is expressed mostly through brass and reed undulations while move up and down in pitch and timbres when not glued together for wave for fluctuations. Pavone functions as combination cheerleader/straw boss on tunes such as “Suitcase in Savannah” and “Two Thirds Radical”. He alternately urges on the others with a powerfully directed pulse or shakes up the near spastic rhythm on some tunes or uses Slam Stewart-like harmonizing to carve out space for Noriega’s mercurial bass clarinet puffing and low-pitched slides from McEachern on others. Each player gets some space throughout, but Ballou and Malaby suck up most of the air. The voicing on “Continuing” for instance is layered with action-painting like broad stroke reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ arrangements, with the saxophonist and trumpeter doing most of the hocketing, slurping, whizzing and burbling. “Start Oval”, which could be a simple variant on “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop”, encompasses peeping grace notes from Ballou and later, a tenor saxophone-trombone flutter tonguing exchange climaxing over an explosive, near-danceable beat from Sarin.

Although “Voice Oval”, the title of Vertical’s final track is another musical pun, “Continuing” the title of the last track on Chrome is more telling when it comes to describing Pavone’s art. Both CDs suggest that his musical saga continues; so expect more material from him and all of his bands in the near future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chrome: 1. Cobalt 2. Glass 10 3, Ellipse 4. Ancestors 5. Beige 6. The Lizards (for Jim Jarmusch) 7. Conic 8. Bley 9. Chrome 10. Continuing

Personnel: Chrome: Matt Mitchell (piano); Mario Pavone (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums)

Track Listing: Vertical: 1. Ellipse 2. Vertical 3. Suitcase in Savannah 4. Broken 5. Cube Code 6. Blue Drum 7. Start Oval 8. Horizontal 9. Two Thirds Radical 10 Axis Legacy 11. Voice Oval

Personnel: Vertical: Dave Ballou (trumpet); Peter McEachern (trombone); Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet); Mario Pavone (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums)