Ancestors marks the debut of bassist Mario Pavone's Double Tenor Quintet. A tireless bandleader and endlessly resourceful composer, Pavone's nineteenth release as a leader is his tenth recording for guitarist Michael Musillami's Playscape label. Dedicated to iconic masters Andrew Hill and Dewey Redman, Pavone pays homage to their legacies with a robust, unflagging set rich in soulful intensity and harmonic complexity.
Longtime associate pianist Peter Madsen and veteran drummer Gerald Cleaver join Pavone as unassailable rhythm section partners, while the muscular front line tenors of Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene offer a fascinating study in contrasts. A tight and empathetic unit, each member has collaborated with Pavone in the past; this is Madsen's ninth recording with the bassist and Malaby's fourth, while Cleaver played on Orange (Playscape, 2003) and Greene appeared on Totem Blues (Knitting Factory, 2000).
Pavone's inside/outside aesthetic embraces the expressive potential of free jazz without sacrificing the accessible qualities of hard bop. A commanding bassist and an astute composer, his writing employs a variety of advanced techniques, including shifting rhythms, oscillating tempos and variable dynamics. The quintet fluidly modulates between graceful precision and brash abandon, relying on keen listening skills and dexterous interplay to navigate these labyrinthine pieces.
The tunes are vigorous, each one offering robust lyricism and unfettered emotionthere are no obligatory ballads or introspective fare here. Swinging with kinetic force, galloping bass pulses and crystalline piano shards punctuate quicksilver trap set ruminations as the paired saxophonists uncoil visceral cadences. The quintet handles these tricky charts with aplomb, interpreting them with carefree enthusiasm befitting a congenial blowing session.
Six of the album's eight tunes feature guest arrangements by trumpeters Steven Bernstein and Dave Ballou, as well as producer Musilliami, offering a diverse array of settings for the quintet to explore. The title track and "Andrew" (dedicated to Hill) offer angular, explosive post-bop, "Tomes" traffics in blazing modal hard bop and "Iskmix" climaxes with bluesy fervor. "Pachuka" dabbles in gritty acoustic funk while intervallic counterpoint and punchy Afro-Latin 6/8 rhythms drive "Arc for Puppy" and "Strata Blue."
Despite impressive contributions from the rhythm section, the session's most compelling aspect is the nuanced discourse between the paired saxophonists. Malaby is a renowned free improviser with a vast dynamic range whose raw expressionism has made him one of today's most in-demand saxophonists. The younger Greene is a talented yet underexposed straight ahead hard bop stylist. Together they weave a rich mosaic that veers from unfettered to virtuosic, encapsulating the entire history of their instruments in circuitous dialogues.
Supported by a vibrant cast of fellow veterans, Ancestors is one of Pavone's most uncompromising and passionate recordings. For those inclined towards more adventurous fare, this is essential listening.