This review appears in the November 2014 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.

Authority-Melts-from-Me-coverBobby Avey
Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind)

By David R. Adler

Inspired by a visit to Haiti in 2012, pianist Bobby Avey sought to develop his own musical response to the voudou drumming ensembles he studied. The result is Authority Melts From Me, featuring alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and guitarist Ben Monder as well as Avey’s longtime trio mates Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Jordan Perlson (drums).

There are three extended movements and two briefer interludes in this nearly hour-long suite, a musical mountain confidently scaled by these ambitious and well-matched players. The music breathes, churns tumultuously, slogs through mud, digs its way out into soaring melodic releases. “Kalfou” moves from highly configured staccato passages to expanses with Monder in a wailing fuzztone mode. Zenón solos assertively but fulfills many functions, doubling bass or piano figures or picking up counterlines as the tracks unfold.

Between Avey and Monder, there are layers on layers of impenetrable harmony in this music, as well as textural reach and an intriguing give-and-take of acoustic and electric sounds. Monder’s hovering, scratchy, sculpted, machine-like swells during “Louverture” give an uncanny shape and feel to the latter part of that nearly 18-minute piece. On the closing “Cost,” by contrast, Monder’s acoustic guitar gives a sense of solid ground, a tactile foundation, under all the harmonic and rhythmic flux.

In his liner notes Avey makes an impassioned case for righting injustices toward the Haitian people. He notes the harmful role of much U.S. policy toward Haiti, citing the CIA-backed ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 though not mentioning the U.S. military action that reinstated Aristide in 1994. In any case, Avey’s opinions are strong and worth knowing more about, as they shed light on the knowledge and commitment that lays behind this exceptional album.