Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017
Lineup – Tony Malaby: saxophones; Oscar Noriega: clarinets; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Peter McEachern: trombone; Mario Pavone: bass; Michael Sarin: drums.
The adventurous American bassist Mario Pavone has been a reference in the avant-garde jazz scene for four decades, and his latest work, Vertical, bursts with exceptionally odd grooves, sparkling interwoven melodies, and exciting improvisations, for another significant entry in a very much respected discography.
To play this set of 11 original compositions, he convened a robust four-horn frontline that includes Tony Malaby on saxophones, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Dave Ballou on trumpet, and Peter McEachern on trombone. Teaming up with him in the rhythm section is the drummer Michael Sarin, a longtime collaborator, who earned the drummer's chair once again.
“Ellipse”, a fantastically orchestrated piece, delivers stunning moments with Pavone’s bass and Noriega’s bass clarinets in a tight unison and counterpointing to the horns’ serpentine movements. The improvisational sections were assigned to Malaby, whose centrifugal rhythmic ideas effortlessly germinated from his soprano with a melting sound, and Ballou, more cerebral in his approach but boasting a brittle vibrancy.
“Start Oval” follows the same orientation, but via an enchanting 4/4 groove that makes us tap our feet and then jump for a wild dance. Ballou elevates his sound to the heavens and welcomes the company of Malaby, who never stops to amaze with inventiveness, and McEachern, who adds fuel to the flames.
The title track feels half-floating half-imperial in its initial subdued tones. A beautiful bass ostinato glues to the drummer’s steady tempo while horn unisons slide on top of this configuration. Pavone unties his bass lace, embracing freedom during Malaby and Noriega's improvised talks.
“Suitcase in Savannah”, a stirring piece recuperated from the 2015 album Blue Dialect, diverges from “Broken”, a Sun Ra-like safari, as well as from the shortest piece on the record, “Blue Drum”, which is dominated by Sarin’s colorful brushwork and complemented with Pavone’s hopping notes in a matching communion with the horns in consonance.
Animated with transitive melodic asymmetries, frequent rhythm syncopations, and collective improvisations, “Cube Code” is a rollercoaster drop that also features an explorative bass solo by the bandleader. He delivers another great one on “Two Thirds Radial”, which swings with sharp focus and is rounded off by another piquant solo, beautifully cooked by Noriega, who thanks his horn mates for filling with a few winding moves.
With so much thrilling intensities, the band decided to refrain the impetus with an Ellingtonian brassy ballad called “Axis Legacy”, in which Malaby explores several timbres on the tenor.
Pavone’s music lives in constant expansion and contraction, always searching for flexible points that serve as an escape to change direction or mood, and then, returning to the base where the lines are closed. So, no wonder that many of the tunes carry geometric shapes or symmetry-related words in their titles.
Pavone sounds fresher than ever and his compositional competence, privileging free improvisation within well-established structural blocks, remains highly appealing.
03 – Start Oval ► 07 – Cube Code ► 09 – Two Thirds Radial