Totem Blues
Knitting Factory Works KFW 292

Maybe there's hope for some of the Young Lions after all.

Just as long as they're placed in the context where their chops and ideas are utilized as part of a larger concept, then they perform admirably. This octet CD with band split down the middle — half-callow musicians and half veterans — proves the point. Of course, it also helps to have a visionary leader and composer at the helm. Which is where bassist Mario Pavone comes into the picture

Best known for his collaborations with exploratory reedists Thomas Chapin and Anthony Braxton he has record several well-received CDs with largish group like this one, a few including some of the same players featured here.

Perhaps the bassist knows how to get the best out of these young musicians because Pavone, who is now a grandfather, was a 1960s/1970s Young Lion himself. After early experience with the likes of trumpeter Bill Dixon and pianist Paul Bley, he helped found the Creative Musicians' Improviser's Forum. It was a sort of Connecticut version of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which included percussionist Pheeroan akLaff, drummer Gerry Hemingway and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith among others.

Two of the Young Lions, pianist Peter Madsen and drummer Matt Wilson worked with Pavone on REMEMBERING THOMAS his tribute to Chapin. Moreover, Wilson has already proven himself one of the most versatile of younger percussionists, putting in time with everyone from saxist Dewey Redman to the Jazz Composers Collective. Madsen also has a list of credits as long as a Bosendorfer keyboard ranging, from the expected — the Mingus Big Band and Marty Ehrlich a — to the unusual — Maceo Parker, Stan Getz and Don Cherry. If his work with any of them was as exemplary as it is here, he's obviously headed for a long, versatile career.

Saxophonists Mike Dirubbo, who also specializes in Latin music and teaches professionally, and Jimmy Greene both studied with Jackie McLean. The later also worked in a reconstructed Horace Silver group and was a runner-up in a Thelonious Monk Institute competition, which has the same resonance in a neo-con's career as a studio mailroom job does for a wannabe Hollywood producer. Still, on tunes like "Not Five Kimono" and "Poet O Central Part" his exploratory tenor tone proves that his influences are wider than most.

As for the veterans, reedman George Sovak worked with ill-fated Chapin in the 1980s, while trombonist Peter McEachern's employers range from minimalist composer LaMonte Young to blues legend, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, as well as Chapin and Pavone. Meanwhile trombonist Art Baron played in Duke Ellington's band the last year Ellington himself led it, and has experience that encompasses Broadway pit bands, the Olympia Brass Band, sessions with Stevie Wonder and, surprisingly, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Baron's Ellington roots come most clearly to the fore on the title track, where he and McEachern recall the plunger mute heyday of "Tricky Sam" Nanton in Duke's Jungle Band. However the tune itself, with its Native Indian motif is more closely allied to J.J. Johnson's "Mohawk" than anything in the Ducal canon. Interestingly enough, here and on the speedy "New Socks", it's McEachern's muted, but limber neo-bop lines that sound more obviously Ellingtonian than what Baron produces.

Charles Mingus, Pavone's other main influence, gets his due in "Not Five Kimono" with its gospelish mixture of bones and saxes. Greene comes across as a more discordant sounding Booker Ervin and Madsen references Horace Parlan. Incidentally he suggests a double-timing soul-funkster on "Otic" as well.

The rest of the tunes, all written by the bassist, except for Chapin's "Poet O Central Park" are more fine examples of evolving contemporary freebop, foottappers with brains. Pavone takes solos on most of the tunes, but considering the advances in bass playing that have been made since he was a Young Lion, his work can be heard as yeoman-like and able to get the job done, but not spectacular.

There's a positive feature in this as well. For obviously the bassist didn't see his role here as star soloist with massed supplicants framing his genius. Instead he comes across like a wily bandleader of old, directing his Young Lions and youthful veterans towards the promised land of good jazz.

With so many CDs and bands appearing which highlight the neo-con equivalent of the blind leading the blind — the inexperienced leading the inexperienced — TOTEM BLUES is doubly impressive. By giving his sidemen guidance and a proper climate in which to blow, Pavone has come up with a noteworthy octet that produces an impeccable setting for his compositions.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Not Five Kimono 2. Sequence 3. Totem 4. Poet O Central Park 5. Bass Song 6. Bella Avo Fero 7. Otic 8. New Socks 9. Odette 10. Cherry Bars

Personnel: Art Baron, Peter McEachern (trombones); Jimmy Greene (tenor saxophone); George Sovak (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Mike Dirubbo (alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet); Peter Madsen (piano); Mario Pavone (bass); Matt Wilson (drums)