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Friday, May 21, 2021

Mario Pavone (1940 - 2021)

Mario Pavone (photo by Peter Gannushkin)

By  Martin Schray

Mario Pavone was a fighter - in real life and in his music. For 17 years he has fought cancer and they way he played his bass looked a bit like fighting as well - with a lot of force, keeping his strings a little high and overplaying them. He said that his style was rather sculptural. In any ways, it was spectacular watching him.

Pavone, who was born in Waterbury/Connecticut in 1940, was actually an engineer and had no formal musical training in his youth. The initiatory experience that led him to music was something special: John Coltrane’s seminal residence at the Village Vanguard in 1961. Shortly after that he began playing the bass and settled in New York City, where he got to know pianist Paul Bley and trumpeter Bill Dixon. That’s how he became part what would later on be called the first loft era.

In 1968 he went on a European tour with Bley, with whom he worked until 1972. In the early 1970s he performed with vibraphonist Bobby Naughton and was a member of Bill Dixon’s Orchestra of the Streets, as well as John Fischer’s Interface. In 1975 he formed the Creative Music Improvisers Forum (CMIF) in New Heaven with Bobby Naughton, Wadada Leo Smith, Gerry Hemingway, and many others, before he began his 18-year collaboration with Thomas Chapin in 1980. His most important formation with Chapin was the trio with drummer Michael Sarin, one of the most important bands of the downtown Knitting Factory scene. From 1990 to 1996 the trio was very productive and toured in Europe and the U.S. After Chapin's untimely death in 1998, Pavone began a long recording career as a leader and worked with almost everyone who’s important in the New York free jazz scene - from Tony Malaby to Steven Bernstein, Gerald Cleaver, Craig Taborn, Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey, to name only a few. 

 Recently, Pavone had focused his musical energies on the classic piano trio format, reconnecting with Paul Bley for a recording, releasing a live disc with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, recording 3 CDs with his Dialect Trio featuring Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey, the latest to be released in July 2019 on Clean Feed Records. In a recent interview with Downbeat Magazine he said that he planned to “make a final artistic statement, in two parts“. He recorded sessions in 2020, with two quartets including six new tunes approached from different perspectives. Blue Vertical (Out of Your Head) was for his ongoing “implied time” trio with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, plus trumpeter Dave Ballou. Isabella (Clean Feed) was for the grooving “overt time” of Mario and “the three Mikes” - his son Michael Pavone on electric guitar, altoist Mike DiRubbo and drummer Michael Sarin, his longtime collaborator from the days with Thomas Chapin. “I’m just happy to get these two releases done,” Pavone said in the interview with Downbeat. “It took every bit of energy, and the music is what got me through. I’ve had a great life and I’m so appreciative of all the players who jumped in and generously contributed, from the heart. I’m grateful, happy, satisfied with my life, ready to move to this next cycle.”

On Saturday, May 15th, Mario Pavone lost his fight against cancer. It’s sad to know that he isn’t there anymore.

Watch a performance with his excellent trio with Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey:


Reflections on the Recordings

Writers of the Free Jazz Blog contributed their thoughts on some of their favorite Mario Pavone recordings.

Martin Schray  

Thomas Chapin Trio - Anima
(Knitting Factory Works, 1992)

Pavone’s bowed for Chapin’s saxophone hook line in the title track is among the most beautiful moments of all the downtown scene releases.

Bill Dixon - Son of Sisyphos (Soul Note, 1988)

Pavone counters John Buckingham's ultra-deep tuba tones with his lightning-fast, scurrying intervals. Dixon's trumpet and Laurence Cook's drums float above things. Free jazz can be so beautiful.

Stephen Griffith

My first conscious exposure to Mario Pavone (I guess I'd heard him on Bill Dixon’s Son of Sisyphus previously but it didn't leave as immediate of a positive impression) was on one of the Thomas Chapin Trio’s seven releases on Knitting Factory Works; maybe Third Force. Whichever one it was (I eventually got them all) it grabbed me immediately with how full of a sound an alto sax, bass and drums (Steve Johns or Michael Sarin) achieved moving rapidly through post Ornette originals that were catchily complex and became immediately familiar. Pavone was the foundation rock on which all was built with his large but uniquely dancing sound. Ride (Playscape, 2006) sticks out in my mind because it was released in 2006 posthumously after Chapin’s passing, a 1995 North Sea Jazz Festival performance which brought back all the previous magic one last time.

I tried Chapin releases with other bassists on different labels who played well with other musicians I like but it just wasn't as good a fit as with Mario Pavone.


Kenneth Blanchard

Mario Pavone’s passing reminds me of how easy it is to take something for granted. I do not recall listening to one of his recordings over the last year because… they will always be there. I won’t. This morning I am listening to Orange (2003) one of the Nu Trio recordings. What a wonderful piece of music! Pavone’s playing is superb and you can hear his softly singing behind his solos. He is one of those leaders whose genius was contagious. Every member of the band is sharp and luminous. I can also highly recommend Deez to Blues (2006).


Lee Rice Epstein

Ancestors ‎(Playscape Recordings, 2008)
Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape Recordings, 2010)

Early in his career, Mario Pavone joined Bill Dixon, beginning with the iconic November 1981. Starting with this group, it was clear Pavone and Dixon had one of those deep and special connections. Twenty-five years later, Pavone recorded “Half Dome (For Bill Dixon)” a gorgeous two-minute tribute. These back-to-back albums, Ancestors and Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po, feature the larger groups Double Tenor Quintet and Orange Double Tenor are undeniably modern classics. Both showcase the depth and sensitivity of Pavone’s compositional approach. Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene tease out the warmth and these melodies. On the second album, Dave Ballou extends the groups sound, but he had already been arranging for Pavone for a while, and continued to do so for several albums following. Pavone and Ballou clearly shared a deep connection, much like his earlier one with Dixon. The arrangement of “Iskmix” for example, brings a spaciousness to the complex, overlaid time signatures and free rhythms. Space was a specialty of Pavone’s  playing and composing, and his sounds and silences will be missed equally.


Paul Acquaro

Does it make sense to post Understanding by Bobby Naughton Units? The vibraphonist's 1974 JAPO release features both a young Mario Pavone or Richard Youngstein on bass - the album was a mix of a live and studio recording. Regardless, it's an early document of Pavone's recorded work and puts him in the company of the late great Perry Robinson and Mark Whitecage. Pavone's solo on the track 'Snow' is a lovely, slowly unfolding part within a lovely, slowly unfolding piece.


Past Reviews:

Mario Pavone – Vertical (Clean Feed, 2017) 

By Troy Dostert

A reunion record of sorts, with bass legend Mario Pavone getting together with some long-time colleagues of old in a sextet format. And the results are predictably excellent: multiple horn parts giving life to Pavone’s thorny compositions, a strong yet occasionally unpredictable rhythmic current, and superb musicianship throughout. Read more.


Mario Pavone's Dialect Trio - Philosophy (Clean Feed Records, 2019)

By Olle Lawson

Double bassist Mario Pavone’s latest album Philosophy could equally have been entitled ‘Aphorisms’ considering how concise these eight mini manifestos are. Pavone is a selfless leader who none the less stamps his authorial mark on all of his multifaceted line-ups. This is the third Dialect Trio LP with pianist Matt Mitchell – best known for his work with Tim Berne – and the inimitable Tyshawn Sorey. Read more.


Mario Pavone Dialect Trio - Chrome (Playscape, 2017) 

By Derek Stone 

 For me, 2014’s Blue Dialect was one of those releases that, merely by virtue of the players involved, absolutely insisted on being heard. In particular, two names grabbed my attention: Tyshawn Sorey (on percussion) and Matt Mitchell (on piano) ... Chrome is another fantastic entry in Pavone’s discography, and it offers yet more proof that he is one of the finest composers/bandleaders around. Read more.



Thomas Chapin - Night Bird Song ('Olena Productions, 2016) 

By Paul Acquaro

The film, using footage, photos, documents and interviews, presents Chapin's life in two parts: the first a rather chronological log of his life growing up in Connecticut, his family, his growing musical interests, and his studies at Rutger's in the early days of its renowned jazz program. The film moves on to his work as music director of the Lionel Hampton big band, the fury of his group Machine Gun, and finally the creation of the Thomas Chapin Trio with bassist Mario Pavone and drummers Steve Johns and Michael Sarin. In watching the arc of Chapin’s foreshortened career, you cannot help but see how his ambition and focus were always underscored by his humanity and genuine curiosity. It can be humbling to watch. Read more.

Mario Pavone – Blue Dialect (Clean Feed, 2015) 

By Troy Dostert

It’s great to see Clean Feed adding a veteran of Mario Pavone’s stature to its roster.  The label has done such a fine job in recent years of documenting many of the most creative and forward-thinking artists in jazz and free improvisation, and bassist Pavone certainly deserves to be in the conversation as one of them, especially when it comes to the piano-bass-drums trio format, arguably the most appropriate showcase for Pavone’s distinctive talents.  A couple years ago Pavone released Arc Trio, an exceptionally fine outing with Gerald Cleaver and Craig Taborn. Read more.


Mario Pavone – Arc Trio (Playscape, 2013) 

By Troy Dostert

On this terrific piano trio record, veteran bassist Mario Pavone unites with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver for a live outing from Greenwich Village, allowing us to gain a fascinating glimpse into the levels of musical collaboration possible between three masters of their respective instruments. Read more.


Mario Pavone - Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape, 2010)

By Stanley Zappa

Calling Mario Pavone's Double Orange Tenor arc suite t/pi t/po commodity jazz is hardly meant to be an insult (unless you're offended by he notion of such a cleve) because as far as commodity jazz concerned, this is as good as it comes. Yet clever arrangements with latin sections, well crafted solos with themes, variations and other well loved compositional elements have an ability to asphyxiate in our post-Coltrane day, despite the level of craft and dedication required in their realization. Read more.

Mario Pavone - Ancestors (Playscape, 2008)

Bassist Mario Pavone has been in the forefront of modern jazz for the last four decades, and even if many of his generation got stuck in the style for which they were once in the vanguard, Pavone has kept evolving, and still does. He is most known from his collaborations with Paul Bley first, and Bill Dixon later, then Thomas Chapin, yet his own Nu Trio/Quintet and sextet bring his music, in an always very recognisable style. Read more.


Thomas Chapin Trio - Ride (Playscape, 2006)

By Stef Gijssels

This is Thomas Chapin's last recorded live date, at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague in 1995. Chapin died from leukemia in 1998 at the age of 40. This is one of his better albums, and as often his trio consists of Mario Pavone on bass and Michael Sarin on drums. The band is at its peak, after having toured for years, and they play with conviction and with joy. Read more.