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Bassist Mario Pavone, who died in May at age 80 after a 17-year battle with carcinoid cancer, made his bones in New York’s avant-garde loft scene during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Just to be heard behind caterwauling horn players required him to play his unamplified double bass with as much muscle and aggression as he could muster. That approach continued to inform his playing until the end.
The deep, woody and percussive sound that Pavone cultivated is very much on display on Isabella. It’s also the album’s main calling card.
The Tampa Quartet includes Pavone’s son, guitarist Michael Pavone, alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo and drummer Michael Sarin, none of whom is based in Tampa. The unit takes its name from where the sessions were recorded — at a capacious studio called Springs Theatre Arts & Recording — while the album takes its name from its dedication to Pavone’s 23-year-old granddaughter, Isabella, who died in 2020.
Mario certainly did not have to fight to be heard in this environment. The quartet tackles eight of his originals written late in life. They feature angular, zig-zaggy melodies that unfold and establish the unit’s chemistry. Most often, Michael Pavone and DiRubbo play the heads in unison, allowing the leader to roam the neck, run counterpoint, play idiosyncratic licks and leave space in places.
While Michael Pavone and DiRubbo are able soloists, neither seems interested in stealing Mario’s thunder. Your ear is naturally drawn to the bass and drums, making for a kind of inverted listening experience, punctuated by the fact that Mario rarely solos.
The sameness of the compositions, however, does at times create a numbing effect. “Good Treble” rises above the rest. Sarin’s choppy, nearly cymbal-free groove meshes well with a simpler melody. Guitarist and saxophonist each raise their game a notch. So does Mario, who explores the upper register and counters by dropping so low at times that notes sound almost flatulent. Even when the band is in a collective zone, it’s always Mario’s show. — Eric Snider
Featured photo: Enid Farber