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Mario Pavone Is As Powerful As Ever On Final Albums 'Blue Vertical' And 'Isabella'


This is FRESH AIR. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of the two final albums from bassist Mario Pavone, who died May 15. He was 80. Over his career, Pavone worked with diverse leaders, including Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton and Thomas Chapin, besides recording over two dozen records of his own. Kevin says Pavone connected with many excellent musicians, and his last albums run true to form.

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Last winter, knowing his time on earth was growing short, bassist Mario Pavone resolved to cap 40 years of making his own records with a final statement in two parts - two albums by two quartets, each program including six of the same new compositions observed from two perspectives.


WHITEHEAD: Bassist Mario Pavone on his tune "Twardzik" from the album "Isabella" with three longtime accomplices. His son Michael Pavone on guitar, Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone and the superattentive drummer Michael Sarin. On Mario Pavone's other new record, "Blue Vertical," the band is his longtime exploratory trio with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey plus trumpeter Dave Ballou, a close ally who edited and arranged much of Pavone's music in recent years.


WHITEHEAD: As bass player, Mario Pavone was mostly self-taught, and his lines didn't move in conventional ways. He got a thick, thumping resistance sound from the bass, almost yanking at the strings. That was a legacy of coming up playing unamplified on screamy New York free jazz sessions where he had to be forceful just to be heard.


WHITEHEAD: Closer to home in Connecticut, Mario Pavone played jam sessions in local clubs. There, he might, say, mix it up with a grooving modern guitarist and a bebop-influenced alto player, as he does on the album "Isabella." Pavone was up for all of it - subtle swinging, rambunctious free play and writing tunes to stimulate players' creativity.


WHITEHEAD: There's some excellent playing on these CDs, in particular from drummers Michael Sarin and Tyshawn Sorey and from the leader, sounding powerful as ever. Mario Pavone composed on the bass, and his tune sound as fresh and personal as his playing. These contrasting, distinctive and equally committed quartets, the guitar and alto band on "Isabella" and the piano and trumpet one on "Blue Vertical" show his so-called inside and outside tendencies weren't so far apart or hard to reconcile.


WHITEHEAD: That Mario Pavone's compositions galvanize and focus two rather different ensembles might encourage other curious musicians to give his pieces a try, keeping his music in circulation. This great bass player and big-hearted mensch made a number of memorable records. With his final statements, "Blue Vertical" and "Isabella," he left us with two more.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed the final two albums from bassist Mario Pavone, "Blue Vertical" on the Out of Your Heads (ph) label and "Isabella" on the Clean Feed label.

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interviews with Desus and Mero, hosts of the Showtime comedy series "Desus & Mero," or Renee Elise Goldsberry, a star of the new comedy series "Girls5eva" and the original Broadway production of "Hamilton," check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORATONE'S "SWAMPED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.