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Fri Jan 9 11:06:57 EST 2009


January 9, 2009


Nodding to Tradition While Pursuing the Ideal


Mario Pavone¹s jazz can possibly be heard two different ways. His gig at
Iridium on Wednesday night had two traditions running through it: the
rhythmic and harmonic grids of bebop and all that descends from it, and the
cathartic tracing-in-air of free jazz.

But that¹s a pretty brain-first, ears-second way to put it. The mixture
proposed by Mr. Pavone ‹ his third way ‹ represents its own tradition. And
it¹s a pretty old one, encompassing music made in the 1960s by Ornette
Coleman, Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean, Paul Bley and many others. These days
the mixture sounds natural, and it¹s not hard to come by among younger
players. But in his bass playing, his composing and his band leading, Mr.
Pavone ‹ who recently turned 68 ‹ projects a brawny earnestness, as if this
rapprochement of ideas were still something to fight for, a cause to defend.

Maybe more interesting, his band on Wednesday had two tenor saxophones in it
‹ another mini-tradition in jazz (Lester Young and Herschel Evans, Dexter
Gordon and Wardell Gray, Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis). But this is a
tradition whose pleasure hardly needs to be explained. You¹ve got two big,
resonant wind instruments, harmonizing together on themes and trying to
outdo each other in solos. That¹s enough; that¹s a lot.

The two tenors on Wednesday, as on the new CD ³Ancestors² (Playscape), were
Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene. Mr. Pavone is a rhythm-centrist: he said from
the stage that he considers the bass, piano and drums the core of all his
music. But the two saxophonists made the performance and gave this band its
individual quality.

Mr. Malaby¹s basic improvising style is perfectly in tune with this music:
schooled and articulate but questioning, sometimes even aggressive. Mr.
Greene is his contrast, and the band¹s greater surprise. He starts with a
broad, relaxed sound ‹ he knows how to play a jazz ballad in the old way ‹
but in some of the pieces during Wednesday¹s early set he worked up to
impassioned late-Coltrane screams before he finished a solo.

Peter Madsen, the pianist, also seems a natural fit for the band: his
playing contains deep mixtures of splashing dissonance and figures from hard
bop and gospel. His solos, especially the one he took on ³Ancestors,² were
arguments for a unified-field vision of jazz aesthetics. Much the same could
be said for the drummer Gerald Cleaver, who brought a lot of color and
soloistic ideas into his steady time.

But the force behind the arguments was Mr. Pavone himself, who yanked his
strings to play bass chords and held down stubborn vamps while the
saxophonists took their flights. There was a severity in his playing, and in
the music as a whole, that didn¹t always seem necessary; any band with a
narrow emotional range is a band that could be improved. But his commitment,
even after so many years of pursuing his ideal, is the real thing.

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