bassist * composer * improviser

Matt Pavolka

#17 The New York City Jazz Record Review

The Horns Band
Matt Pavolka (Fresh Sound-New Talent)
by Phil Freeman

Is this good music for reading? It’s a fair question,
since all the compositions on bassist and occasional
trombonist Matt Pavolka’s new album are named in
tribute to books by Cormac McCarthy, José Saramago
and Thomas Pynchon, among others. So, would The
Horns Band provide pleasing accompaniment, or a
distraction? Probably the latter, but that’s a good thing.
The Horns Band is aptly named—the frontline is
composed of Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Loren Stillman
(alto saxophone) and Jacob Garchik (trombone), backed
by Pavolka and drummer Mark Ferber. These are
highly regarded players on the New York scene,
capable of bringing new ideas to virtually any situation
and here they overcome what could initially seem to be
a strong limitation. The three horns blend together
into a swirling fog; unaccompanied solos are extremely
rare. Almost every time one man takes the spotlight,
the other two are swaying back and forth behind him.
On the ballad “Lullaby”, the rich tones of cornet and
trombone harmonize effortlessly behind the saxophone,
like old-time singers backing a romantic crooner. On
the klezmer-ish mood piece “That Night the Blind Man
Dreamt That He Was Blind”, by contrast, the threesome
wind around each other like dancers. And when the
tempo gets more frantic, as on the opening “Acid
Metacognition”, everyone jumps and bounces, at times
launching into joyous polyphony. Behind all this
harmony, Pavolka and Ferber are working just as hard
as their frontline compatriots. A tight, telepathic
rhythm team, they lock into hard-swinging grooves
that keep the horns from drifting too far afield and
make sure they give everything they’ve got.
This is a surprising album in many ways—a
display of collective effort that nevertheless still
permits individual expression to shine through; a set
of thoughtfully written compositions that gives the
illusion of being a blowing session; a tribute to great
literature that’s almost perversely ill-suited to serve as
background music.

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