When listening to Mario Pavone, it’s hard not to think of the more-well-known jazz bassist Dave Holland. Like Holland, Pavone made his mark as a solid sideman to legends, playing with the likes of Paul Bley and Anthony Braxton. Like Holland, Pavone has always deftly toed the line between accessibility and experimentation. And, lastly, like Holland, Pavone’s second career as a bandleader and composer has by-and-large resulted in music that is intellectually stimulating and technically challenging but ultimately devoid of feeling. Pavone’s latest effort, Ancestors, is no exception.
Look no further than the album’s title track for proof. The tune is rhythmically complex with extended syncopated passages, layered poly-rhythms, and unusual time shifts. There is no doubt that it is a challenging composition and Pavone’s talented band is surely up for it — they sound incredibly tight and precise, never confused, switching comfortably between free jazz and bop passages. In the end, however, there are too many ideas packed into one song, resulting in solos and melodies that aren’t particularly memorable. This is jazz and so there is certainly spontaneity: the drums crackle; the horns squawk and blare; and the bass pulses. But it all sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound, the aural equivalent of a textbook on modern jazz techniques. The rest of Ancestors can be similarly characterized. As an intellectual exercise, the album is first rate. As a work of great emotional depth, it leaves something to be desired.