Photo: Garth Woods

If you can’t hear it in the music, does it matter? Pianist Bobby Avey‘s new album, Authority Melts From Me (buy it from Amazon), is inspired by vodou and the Haitian revolution of the 18th Century. (The first track is called “Kalfou,” named for one of the darker vodou spirits; the third track is called “Louverture,” presumably in tribute to Toussaint Louverture, leader of the revolution.) Some of the melodies are based on transcriptions of vodou drumming, as well. But without being told that, you’d never know it. If you close your eyes, ignore the press release (assuming you got one) and just listen, Authority Melts From Me is a modern jazz album, period. So how important are the album’s influences or inspirations, really? When the music’s this good, it’s arguable that any extra information is too much—that the best response is to close one’s eyes (figuratively and maybe literally) and listen.

Authority Melts From Me is made up of three lengthy pieces—”Kalfou,” “Louverture,” and “Cost,” each running between 13 and 18 minutes—and two three-minute interstitial pieces, one for piano and one for drums. It plays out as a single seamless work, by a band made up of Miguel Zenón on saxophone, Ben Monder on guitar, Avey on piano, Thomson Kneeland on bass, and Jordan Perlson on drums. It shifts, moment by moment, from agitated bursts of counterpoint to spacious solos to almost orchestral swells, always moving forward, restless and impetuous.

Avey’s piano playing owes much more to classical than jazz; there’s a passage in the final third of “Louverture” where his rippling trills recall Philip Glass‘s Solo Piano album, while behind him, Monder’s guitar creates gentle surges of carefully sculpted feedback not unlike Godflesh‘s “Pure II.” Monder is one of the most consistently surprising guitarists in jazz right now, and he gets quite a bit of space to showcase his collection of pedals, as well as his sense of space and timing. He’s occasionally quite loud here, but never seems to be shoving others out of the way. Zenón, meanwhile, is the most unfettered player on the disc; his solos zip from fleet streams of notes to high-pitched, line-punctuating shrieks reminiscent of Jackie McLean in his mid ’60s free period, and he bounces along bar lines in a deceptively loose manner. Kneeland would be more worthy of analysis if he’d gotten any time in the spotlight, but he serves the music admirably from a 100% supporting position. Meanwhile, given the compositions’ roots in percussion, it’s no surprise that Perlson is on the attack throughout. His drums have a fierce clatter, and the cymbals sound like trash-can lids; he’s unwilling to cede an inch to the so-called lead players, and drives them hard, even during slow sections.

Phil Freeman

Here’s a video about the thought behind the project, and the sessions:

Stream a short sampler of music from the album:

Buy Authority Melts From Me from Amazon

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