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Guitarist Michael Musillami and bassist Mario Pavone have formed an alliance. While each player has forged his own independent identity as a musician and composer, their work in common offers real excitement. Musillami and Pavone share a certain approach to jazz in which the straight-ahead tradition of swing, changes, and song arrangements receives high priority. Yet at the same they constantly strive to stretch the rules and break down boundaries. The give and take is where the sparks fly. They've joined forces on record; and they've joined forces behind the scenes with Playscape Recordings.
That said, Pivot represents a change. Rather than working with a pianist, as on previous recordings, the two string players collaborate here with two horns. And as a result, the music has opened up, exposing new space. Musillami does not seek to fill it with comped chords, mostly relying on oblique lines to imply harmony. And given Pavone's own predilection to angular units on the bottom end, the intersection can be unpredictable and surprising. For example: midway through "Bella At Six," Pavone shoots off ascending riffs which tend toward a strong funk feel. But drummer George Schuller refuses to settle into any particular groove, and so Musillami must navigate these difficult waters during his solo. He thrusts and stabs, developing a theme through unevenly paced lines. Odd but victorious. (It's a stark contrast to some of Musillami's work in other contexts, in which he has adopted a much more traditional role. He established his virtuosity and fluency in the idiom, but this is a departure for the wilder.)
The title track, by Musillami, is very direct in its intentions. Moving through a variety of widely different sections, the challenge that faces the group is how to make connections. A full-on rocky romp employing every voice can implode on a moment's notice into soft lyricism, and the lines that flow from one to the next have a surprising level of coherence. In that sense "Pivot" embodies the spirit of the record. To Musillami and Pavone, jazz is a continuum, whatever its component parts.
Be prepared for adventure on Pivot. That's what it's all about.