There have been times in the recent history of jazz when I thought that the MuseumAuthority™ would win out. This was before I knew about things like the downtown New York thing (Thank you, Mr. Zorn) or the open-minded European scene (Thank you, thirsty Euro-ears). The Crouchs of the world, while steeped in jazz history, tend to be selective in what they decide is “important,” conveniently forgetting that the music’s history and tradition has a long, long reach.
Pianist Bobby Avey cleverly side-steps those museum folks, adding to the tradition by employing some Haitian rhythms as the base material for the compositions on Authority Melts From Me. Actually, it goes a little deeper than that because Avey, interested in the events surrounding the Haitian revolution of 1791, traveled to Haiti to record a Vodou ceremony. It was from those recordings that Avey analyzed the rhythmic components, which were then used as compositional starting points.
Authority Melts From Me is comprised of three separate pieces — “Kalfou,” “Louverture,” and the closing “Cost.” They are separated by interstitial piano and drum “interludes.” As an introduction to what this group can do, the nearly 13-minute “Kalfou” will do.
Guitarist Ben Monder introduces the underlying rhythm in single note fashion, to be followed by Avey wrapping arpeggios around the insistent guitar. Monder then takes center stage for a tangled solo as bassist Thomans Kneeland and drummer Jordan Perison slowly amp up the rhythmic scaffolding. At just past the four minute mark, when you might be tempted to think that this is a jazz fusion date, saxophonist Migel Zenon enters the picture. While it’s obvious that Zenon can really blow, it’s his tendency to sound like the human voice that’s most affecting. And even when he turns up the heat, trading and sharing passages with Avey’s increasingly frenetic chording, he doesn’t lose that emotional touch. Monder then reenters, announcing the final segment of the composition with a series of circular arpeggios. Slowly, each instrument takes up a space in the soundstage as the track’s early vibe is pieced back together. It’s really some masterful ensemble work.
Its fairly obvious that Avey’s ideas about what a jazz ensemble can do are not constrained by traditional limits. As if the opening track weren’t enough, we have a piano interlude that echoes both Keith Jarrett and Philip Glass. This morphs into “Louverture,” which itself transforms from something that sounds almost traditional into some dark and lovely soundscapes. Jordan Perison’s impossibly precise “Drum Interlude” then transitions into the album closer, “Cost,” a long suite that takes inspiration from a set of arpeggios that Avey and Monder play in unison.
After every harmonic possibility of those rolling chords is investigated, the tight rhythm that launched the record returns. You can’t help but wonder where the last hour went. As you restart the recording, you realize that you just don’t care.