Bassist-composer and Connecticut’s favorite son Mario Pavone brought his dynamic Dialect Trio—featuring outstanding pianist Matt Mitchell and prodigious drummer Tyshawn Sorey—to the intimate and acoustically brilliant Firehouse 12 performance space in New Haven for two compelling sets on Friday, May 18.
The 75-seat venue was packed with longtime Pavone fans, many of whom remembered the bandleader from his longstanding collaboration during the ’80s and ’90s with the late Thomas Chapin, a few even able to recall as far back as his work with Paul Bley in the early ’70s. A stalwart bassist, who is approaching his 78th birthday this November, Pavone anchored this gestalt trio with a big, woody tone and resolute demeanor. His lines were succinct and clear, and his chording behind Mitchell’s piano solos forceful and unshakable, providing an anchor for this uncannily interactive trio, as they performed material from their 2017 Playscape album, Chrome, along with other Pavone originals.
Pavone’s compositional style involves intricate heads, generally played in unison by bass and piano (as on “Beige” and “Conic”), before opening up to expansive improvisations and ultimately resolving back to the strictly arranged material. Mitchell, an intensely probing pianist and also a member of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, among other cutting edge ensembles, served as a perfect complement to Pavone, often referring to the charts spread out on his piano during some of the thornier heads, as on “Poles” (from 2013’s Arc Trio) and the frenetic “Chrome,” which also had Sorey joining in on the tricky unisons.
Multi-instrumentalist Sorey, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner in 2017, is an explosive drummer with a composer’s mind and an unpredictable nature. Throughout the set, he was as likely to explore a cymbal for its ringing overtones and summon myriad timbres and textures on the kit with sticks and brushes (as on the spacious “Beige”) as he was likely to slam with the fierce polyrhythmic authority of Jeff “Tain” Watts, unleashed. At other times, he played with the understated kinetic pulse of Sunny Murray.
A rendition of Pavone’s “Reflections,” from 2015’s Blue Dialect (not to be confused with Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections”), was jaunty, swinging and Monkish, underscored by Sorey’s loose shuffle-swing beat and colored by Mitchell’s frisky excursions on the keys, with allusions to “Straight No Chaser” along the way. At one point, Mitchell laid out entirely on this tune, leaving Pavone and Sorey to explore their own unique dialect together in dramatic fashion. And on “Vertical” (the title track of Pavone’s 2017 sextet album on Clean Feed), bassist, pianist and drummer engaged in a kind of pointillistic code talk that opened up to some freewheeling conversations.
They closed on a kinetic note with “Conic” (from Chrome), which had Mitchell cascading over the keys, Pavone pedaling furiously and Sorey bashing with abandon. Their second set featured more material from Chrome, including “Ancestors,” “Glass 10” and “The Lizards (from Jim Jarmusch),” each delivered with that same perfect balance between composition and improvisation that is at the heart of Pavone’s writing.
With two albums and several gigs under their belt, this potent trio keeps honing its telepathy, while collectively pushing the envelope from set to set. DB