Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Words of wisdom from Mario Pavone

Last night I got to hear my old childhood friend Ron Horton play live for the first time since high school. I was in New Haven, and he came to New Haven to play with the Will Holshouser Trio (and quartet much of the time thanks to the addition of Scott Robinson) at Firehouse 12. That’s worth a full blog post, will try to do it. But I wanted to talk about something else that came up.

Afterwards Ron introduced me to Mario Pavone, a great bass player and composer whom Ron has played with and who lives in New Haven. A few years ago I heard this lovely cut from an ensemble recording he did that I really need to track down. It was a stay close to the radio until the talk break moment.

So he was talking about what he’s up to, and it’s a lot. He had just gone into the studio with Paul Bley (!!) and Matt Wilson, and he talked about feeling like the music has really flowing. Then he said something like “Music is on fire right now. The culture is sick, but music is on fire, so much of it, all these young people getting into it even if the audiences aren’t there.” He was definitely talking about it as a kind of reaction to the war and the administration – we had just been talking about Ben Allison’s Cowboy Justice group (Ron’s a member), which just did a gig at the Jazz Standard. The Cowboy Justice songs are all references to current politics, with angry and sardonic edges. (Maria found a YouTube clip of the group at the Green Mill in Chicago.)

I tend to agree with Mario. There does seem to be great energy out there. For jazz music, especially if you’re on the East Coast. There are a lot of inspired projects out there, older guys like Paul Bley are doing wonderful work, older musicians are working with younger ones. The economics of it are shaky as hell, which tends to make it obvious that it is driven by a passion. It would not be the first time that illness in the dominant cultures resulted in a counter-reaction of artistic energy.

One thing I distrust in myself with this line of thought is that maybe I’m glad for incompetent government, a disastrous war, economic disorder, and imminent environment collapse because it makes for interesting music. “Hey, let’s light a fire under these people.” Mario talked about waiting to see what happens when this administration leaves the stage, and you’ve got to be in this with the idea that the energy building in opposition can flow into the creation of something positive in the world as conditions reconfigure to allow it. I remember the strong sense of something new and great being just around the corner in the late 60s and early 70s. I was for some time in my youth discouraged by what came instead. But there’s no reason to just say nothing ever comes of this sort of cultural energy. That’s reductionistic and simplistic. Mario seems hopeful when he talks about this.

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