Bassist, composer and bandleader Mario Pavone leads a new all-star sextet on Deez to Blues, his seventeenth recording as a leader. Pavone's swinging, multi-layered compositions push the tradition forward while always looking back. Like his stylistic forefather, Charles Mingus, Pavone's notion of the jazz tradition is playful yet reverent. By placing the rhythm section at the fore while relegating the horns to support roles, Pavone's groups trigger structural innovation quite literally from the inside out.
The bassist's contrapuntal writing updates the jazz tradition in subtle, inventive ways, bending the rules, rather than breaking them. The core rhythm trio is given equal status with the front line, both individually and during chart-driven ensemble passages. Pavone's music exudes a living, breathing quality; his sextet is all ears, as well as muscle.
Pavone and two long-term associates, drummer Michael Sarin and pianist Peter Madsen, trump the front-line soloists time and again with tricky interplay and quicksilver call and response phrasing. The harmonically rich front line consists of another frequent collaborator, trumpeter/arranger Steven Bernstein, and two recent additions, violinist Charles Burnham and multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), both legends in their own right.
Burnham's folksy violin soars over the loping rhythm changes of "Zines" and opens the darkly episodic "Deez." Howard Johnson, an underused session man, finally receives his due as the album's unspoken MVP. His muscular baritone is showcased on the mighty swinging grind of "Xapo," while his lyrical side gets a turn on the set's sole cover, Marty Ehrlich's tender ballad "Day of the Dark Bright Light." Peter Madsen's pneumatic piano and Steven Bernstein's expressively pinched trumpet both contribute rousing solos to "Zines" and "Deez." As an arranger, Bernstein's chart for "Ocbo" is his most vivacious; the whole group trades rotating eights, sparking vibrant statements from all.
Other than a few brief solos, the leader magnanimously avoids the spotlight until the very end. The poignantly titled closer, "Second-Term Blues," showcases his abilities from buoyantly lyrical pizzicato to haunting arco harmonics.
Mario Pavone's inside-outside sensibility never veers so far from tradition as to abandon swing, yet his multifarious writing is anything but ostentatious. Deez to Blues is a high water mark in a consistently exceptional discography.
Personnel: Mario Pavone: bass; Steven Bernstein: trumpet, slide trumpet; Howard Johnson: tuba, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Charles Burnham: violin; Peter Madsen: piano; Michael Sarin: drums.