Matt Pavolka – The Horns Band [TrackList follows] – Fresh Sound New Talent

by | Sep 2, 2014 | Jazz CD Reviews

Matt Pavolka – The Horns Band [TrackList follows] – Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT-447, 63:02 [6/24/14] ***1/2:

(Matt Pavolka – acoustic bass, trombone, producer; Kirk Knuffke – cornet; Loren Stillman – alto saxophone; Jacob Garchik – trombone; Mark Ferber – drums)

It’s not every jazz release which thanks Cormac McCarthy (novelist, playwright and screenwriter), Thomas Pynchon (famously media-shy author) Alain Robbe-Grillet (French writer and filmmaker) and Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic). But take a look at the nine titles on bassist and trombonist Matt Pavolka’s sophomore album, The Horns Band, and you will start to understand. And an attentive listen to the hour-long, nine-track CD gives more clues to Pavolka’s book-inclined influences. Of course, music inspirations abound as well: Pavolka’s wife, Akiko (a singer and pianist) and Argentine pianist and composer Guillermo Klein are also listed in the liner notes. But Pavolka is clear about what he likes. When someone asks what is on his iPod rotation, he’s apt to divulge instead what he’s reading.

Pavolka might not have a high name recognition in some jazz circles, but for over 15 years he has injected his creativity into the New York City jazz scene as bandleader (his 2007 CD, Something People Can Use, was a rock/fusion-infused venture credited to the Matt Pavolka Band), as well as collaborative or supportive work for Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Klein, Tony Malaby and scores more. For his latest project, Pavolka formed a new quintet: Pavolka on acoustic bass and trombone; the busy Kirk Knuffke on cornet (see Andy Biskin, Ideal Bread and Matt Wilson); Loren Stillman on alto sax; Jacob Garchik on second trombone; and Mark Ferber on drums (he’s played with Anthony Wilson and others).

Pavolka’s original, forward-thinking tunes have a multi-tiered but also condensed abundance. Often, the three horns coalesce into nimble arrangements which appear as full and rich as a bigger jazz ensemble. There are also wide-ranging compositional shapes which provide both balance and a broad sonic canvas. This can be heard on the lengthy “The Evening Redness in the West,” which derives its name from the subtitle for McCarthy’s 1985 anti-Western tale, Blood Meridian. While Pavolka does not introduce any Western or Southwestern themes during the tune’s eleven minutes, there are moments which evoke the manuscript’s conflict, collusion and compulsion. The piece is built from appropriately minor harmonies which have a low swinging quality with lean but sinewy horn lines. Pavolka’s moderate abstractions pepper through the staccato “Vheissu,” which was partially kindled by Pynchon’s 1963 debut novel V. It may be stretching the conceit, but Pavolka’s arrangement does give the impression it parallels Pynchon’s intersecting narrative elements, as the fivesome crosshatch sometimes seemingly disparate musical points into a larger mantle.

The eminently melodic “Recollected Forward” gets its designation from Kierkegaard’s philosophical 1843 story, Repetition, which focused on ideas of existence, such as aesthetic, ethical and religious. Here, Pavolka’s viewpoint on auditory architecture is at the forefront, as he interlaces horns, bass and drums into an interesting and fascinating design with a fluctuating momentum and loosened display of improvisation and composition. There is an understated firmness during the gradually developing “The Evolution of Artificial Light,” which borrows its title from Jane Brox’s tome on the history and advancement of artificial light from the Stone Age to present day. Coolly plucked bass notes, coiled cornet and trombone lines and shimmering cymbals conjoin into a dimly-lit, late-night jazz dialogue. There are additional literary stimuli, but those can be detected by offering closer scrutiny to Pavolka’s modernistic material, which his music certainly deserves. If you missed this album when it came out in late June, it’s not too late to discover the unpredictable and confident things Pavolka has to say.

TrackList: Acid Metacognition; The Evening Redness in the West; Lullaby; That Night the Blind Man Dreamt that he was Blind; The Evolution of Artificial Light; Guermo; Vheissu; Recollected Forward; Anti-Green Plate Gives Mr. H. More Power

—Doug Simpson

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