Mario Pavone: Vertical

Don Phipps By

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The moody, complex, witty, playful and abstract music found on Vertical can only result from the combined genius of six talented musicians. And Mario Pavone has assembled just such an ensemble for this release. Pedigree aside, this music explores gentle improvisation and abstractions, a formless within form approach that echoes the work of Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, and Charles Mingus.

All tracks open in clever and interesting ways. Take the initial piece, "Ellipse," with its syncopated bop start. Here Tony Malaby's soprano saxophone's bird-like phrasing plays off against Mike Sarin's snare. This is followed by Dave Ballou's haunting trumpet solo atop Pavone's bass strumming.

There's an almost Braxton feel to the title composition "Vertical." The music is honed by the space between notes. Malaby takes the lead with a solo that mixes both legato and syncopated phrasing. He's joined later by clarinetist Oscar Noriega, and then the clarinet takes over.

Other tracks of interest—

The clever "Suitcase in Savannah" features an active call and response. Malaby and Ballou share the honors. Then Ballou emerges with a solo atop Pavone's lines. The track begins in tight formation and then unwinds into separate voicings without ever leaving the underlying motif, which is stated in unison at the end.

"Broken" has an early morning vibe—that point between night and day. Sarin's use of the floor toms adds nuance while Pavone states the theme with his bass.

"Cube Code" serves up a mysterious mix. Clarinet and trumpet share the spotlight, providing explorations that border on the frenetic without ever losing sight of the over-arching framework of the piece. Underneath, Sarin's drum work provides a diverse exploration behind Pavone's improvisations.

"Start Oval" opens with a bluesy back and forth between the bass and the ensemble. After the opening, Ballou takes over with a howling trumpet solo that streaks along the top notes of the register. Malaby joins in, and Peter McEachern's trombone adds bonus effects in the background.

The geometric puzzle, "Horizontal" alternates between a march (trombone, bass, and drum) and the long abstract theme provided by the rest of the group. As the track progresses, these elements merge on top of one another in surprising and wonderful twists.

Then there's the somber perspective of "Axis Legacy," where Malaby's sax hangs over Pavone's subtle fingerings to great effect.

Pavone adds incredible color and mastery to each of these tracks. His bass solo on the last track, "Voice Oval," exhibits his mastery of the instrument. Nothing is wasted. Every note has a purpose. Each piece provides members of the ensemble the running room necessary to add color and texture to the music within the boundaries of formal composition. Vertical stands out for this reason. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: Ellipse; Vertical; Suitcase In Savannah; Broken; Cube Code; Blue Drum; Start Oval; Horizontal; Two Thirds Radial; Axis Legacy; Voice Oval.

Personnel: Mario Pavone: double bass; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophone; Oscar Noriega: clarinet and bass clarinet; Peter McEachern: trombone; Mike Sarin: drums.

Title: Vertical | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records

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