There is an inevitably tinge of sadness to Blue Vertical. Not because of any particular flavor of the music, but because, along with Isabella (Clean Feed, 2021) it's one of two final releases by bassist Mario Pavone, who died aged 80 less than two months after this March 2021 recording session. Pavone began his career in the '60s free scene, and became a stalwart of bandleaders as diverse as trumpeter Bill Dixon and saxophonist Thomas Chapin.
In a typically self deterministic move, having lived with cancer for 17 years, Pavone was able to curate what he knew would be his last album. To do so he assembled a stellar quartet, supplementing his Dialect Trio comprising drummer Tyshawn Sorey and pianist Matt Mitchell by adding trumpeter Dave Ballou who also finessed the arrangements .
Mitchell and Ballou adroitly handle the often closely voiced themes of the leader's nine originals. Approachable without being mainstream, the pieces open out invitingly for exploration of the elements and implications of the written material. It's at this point that the reason for Pavone's choice of collaborators becomes clear. Of course they are skilled, that's a given, but they also fully buy into his musical ethos without compromising their own. Perhaps the most obvious example is the way in which Sorey's phenomenal network of rhythms mesh with Pavone's pulsing, cajoling bass in complex patterns, while never obscuring whatever else is happening.
Whether on the sleek and punchy opening "Twardzik," the alternating stealth and hustle of "OKWA" or the urbane promenade of "Isabella," Pavone promotes an egalitarian feel which trumps the distinction between front and back. And wherever the bassist's charts go, Ballou is right there with him, melodic and elegant or fizzing and exclamatory. It's the bristling accompaniment on the boppish "Philosophy Series" which pushes him to towards the extremes, winding down his caffeinated solo with a contrasting circular breathed wavering line. Mitchell shines here too, and again on the staggered layers of the spectral then spiky "Face Music."
But in truth it's the ongoing interplay between all four which impresses most, and that would seem a fitting legacy for someone whose aim had long been to blur the border between the preordained and the impromptu.
Twardzik; OKWA; Blue Poles; Isabella; Philosophy Series; Blue Vertical; Good Treble; Legacy Stories; Face Music.