Bobby Avey – Inhuman Wilderness (2016)

Share this:

The winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition for composition back in 2011, Bobby Avey demonstrates complete mastery over the knotted, counterpoint-loaded dynamic harmonics that’s characterized the work of the creative music scene’s best-regarded musicians such as Tim Berne, Vijay Iyer and Aruán Ortiz. This pianist has made two albums (including a collaboration with Dave Liebman) before winning that prize and two since, and his progression has seen steady growth.

Inhuman Wilderness — slated to drop June 24, 2016 via Innervoice Jazz — doesn’t rewrite the script from the prior, well-received Authority Melts From Me, but builds on what is already an accomplished craft. Swapping out guitarist Ben Monder and alto saxman Miguel Zenón for another alto saxman, John O’Gallagher, Avery retains his Thomson Kneeland (bass)/Jordan Perlson (drums) rhythm section. Using O’Gallagher selectively, Avey strips things down just a notch, leaving his compositions more exposed. They hold up wonderfully under the lean setup because everyone is playing their part to extreme precision, and these songs are averse to sitting still.

Much of Avey’s composing prowess comes from an uncommon skill for uniting harmony and rhythm into a inseparable component; as the melody moves in serpentine ways, so do the beats, and Avey makes them work in opposition and in accord, switching the tactics fluidly as one of many methods used to signal a change in the state of a song. A good specimen of this approach is found on “Fall Not A Tear,” whereby O’Gallagher and Perlson go one-on-one on a stuttering rhythm and Avey fleshes out what was only implied by the two. By the end the song is going is many directions at once. “I Should Have Known Less” features Avey and O’Gallagher casually ignoring the rhythmic complexities proffered by Perlson, that is until Avey leverages it to drive his solo turn.

Some of those beats — like those found on “Countless Voices of Unknown People”– might sound a little foreign to American audiences because they are in fact foreign: Slavic folk music and Haitian Vodou drumming are among the diverse ingredients that inform these rhythms. But Avey goes further than that in making his piano just as much as a conduit of rhythm as does Kneeland’s bass and Perlson’s drums.

“Composure Must Be Rare” like the opening track “Countless” is a meeting of tortuous pulse and harmony, intricately composed as it moves from one room of the house into another, modulating mood with the attentiveness of a symphony orchestra. A break in the action to make room for O’Gallagher’s lead presages a tension buildup that explodes back into that original energy and the altoist uses that moment to turn in an impassioned performance. Another winding down is merely taking a breather before winding up again toward another arc.

Avey even experiments with song durations; Authority had its brief interludes but this time, the short performances are bunched together in the middle of the album. The oblique “Structural Adjustment” is launched by a high register, tribal throbbing of the bass, met by Avey’s increasingly denser chord placements in the gaps. “Inhuman Wilderness” is even more skeletal, as Avey’s single line figures are suited for a mystery drama film and O’Gallagher adds minimal thoughts that color the song a dark shade of blue. “Land Theft” is a burst of low-register bombast lasting barely one hundred seconds.

In all, Inhuman Wilderness makes clear why Bobby Avey is an award-winning composer and imaginative pianist. He minds every facet: rhythm, harmony, improvisation, scoring, tradition and the cutting edge, and he molds them into something all his own.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
Share this:
Close