Peter Madsen / Mario Pavone / Michael Sarin / Steven Bernstein / Howard Johnson / Charles Burnham

May 12, 2006

Deez To Blues

Playscape PSR#J050505

Super-sizing his usual combo to a six-pack, veteran bassist Mario Pavone celebrates his 40th year in music with this hard-swinging CD of original compositions, mostly arranged by sideman, trumpeter Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob fame.

New to the Pavone orbit are Howard Johnson, a triple threat on tuba, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, who provides a welcome low-pitched anchor, and violinist Charles Burnham, known for his work with the Odyssey trio, adding string quivers that range from classic Swing lines to near Old Timey country hoedowns. Returning are subtle drummer Michael Sarin and pianist Peter Madsen, whose flashing runs wring nuances from the music without hogging the spotlight.

Although many pieces build from the ground up – with piano and bass playing the melody and variations coming from the horn section – each players gets solo space. On “Ocbo” for example, the brassy, sour-sounding trumpet contrasts with the violinist’s earthy Stuff Smith-like timbres. At different points Johnson contributes splayed baritone notes or muffled tuba work. Meanwhile the tempo-shifting “Dances 3/5” features a duet between Pavone, arco and sul tasto and Burnham pizzicato, downstroking his fiddle like a Bluegrass dobro.

“Xapo”, the longest track, and the finale, “Second Term Blues”, reference gospel music, sifted through compositions like Charles Mingus’ “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”. On the later Pavone’s double-stopping showcase introduces a melancholy lead line promulgated by wah-wah trumpet and bluesy tuba blasts, which concludes as a near- funeral march reflecting the sardonic title. On the former, Johnson’s grainy, altissimo saxophone multiphonics follow comprehensive, highly articulated double time from Madsen.

These Mingus echoes plus the presence of ex-Mingus sideman Johnson are particularly apt, since on this CD the 67-year-old Pavone, like the late bassist, confirms his commitment to fast-moving, forward-thinking sounds.

— Ken Waxman