Label: ESP Disk, 2018
Personnel - Matt Lavelle: trumpet, flugelhorn, clarinet; Reggie Sylvester: drums.
Trumpeter/clarinetist Matt Lavelle and percussionist Reggie Sylvester, two former members of the Bern Nix Quartet, have been active participants in the New York avant-jazz scene. Lavelle was a student of Ornette Coleman and recorded with William Parker, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, and Jameel Moondoc. The latter two also played with Sylvester, who has saxophonists Charles Gayle and James Brandon Lewis on his list of collaborators.
Retrograde, the duo album they are now releasing on ESP Disk, was envisioned as a sonic interstellar journey that continues Interstellar Space, Coltrane/Ali’s outstanding enterprise. It’s a risky move that couldn’t have been more successful. Taking alternative routes and orbits to reach five other planets and one star, they invite us to sonic realms where the gravity varies according to the different sites.
“Uranus” is their first stop and the sounds brought from there are marvelous. They assemble cuíca hums, soft and intelligible flugelhorn melodies that are later expanded into circular or motivic movements with occasional perplexing runs, and a percussive approach that may rely on the simplicity of a single drum stroke or on the energetic flux of multiple cymbal colors.
The following destination is “Neptune”, another icy planet, whose sounds are more scorching than frigid. Devised as an odd dance with rhythmic discontinuances, it’s slightly more aggressive than its predecessor. Well backed by the percussionist, the clarinetist blows emphatic lines, whether creating sweet or ferocious passages that are brought to an equilibrium through a gritty avant-jazz facility.
The self-restraint “Pluto” starts off with dry and wet percussion thumps and cavernous cuíca timbres. Progressing at its own leisure, the tune finds unimposing meows that get further momentum when Lavelle makes his clarinet descend to lower registers.
The thermometer reaches high levels on “Mercury”, a torrid experience with heavy trumpet-percussion crossfire. The undimmed rhythmic figure placed at its center follows the direction of the blues while Sylvester’s rhythmic adherence feels very supportive of the force and ardor that comes out of the melodic construction.
If “The Sun” attaches the rumble and wail of the clarinet to resonant spanking cymbals, “The Earth” blossoms with jauntiness while funneling trumpet perambulations into a pop/rock rhythm that grows in syncopation.
Highly energizing, Retrograde is a mature conceptual work; an intense set of music that shines with brilliance. It was dedicated to late guitarist Bern Nix.
01 - Uranus ► 02 - Neptune ► 04 - Mercury