Pianist Bobby Avey composed this magnum opus based on the rhythms and concepts he learned from two Haitian Vodou drumming ensembles, one of which he experienced firsthand in a Vodou ceremony during his visit to Haiti in 2012. Authority Melts From Me is organized as a suite for quintet, with the rhythm section (drummer Jordan Perlson and bassist Thomson Kneeland) from Avey’s longstanding trio supplemented by heavyweights Ben Monder on guitar and, most significantly, Miguel Zenon on alto sax. It is a work of passionate scholarship, dynamic in its conception and performed with majesty.
“Haiti” and “voodoo” (the common misspelling) conjure witch doctor clichés that bear little resemblance to the deliberative sweep of music that informs Authority. While the shape and rhythm of Perlson’s beats are vital to the enterprise and frequently connote changes in tone and temperament, intellect and intensity are neatly balanced. The structure is a suite within the suite, with the three long songs (“Kalfou,” “Louverture” and “Cost”), each moving through subtly shifting sections of blazing interplay and delicate repose, and the songs themselves interspersed by solo interludes from piano and drums.
Fans of Zenon’s thrilling, highly modulated outbursts will find him in fine fettle on every song, presaged by some Ornettish “human cry” moments on “Kalfou,” which also contains classic but muscular fusion riffs from Monder. Zenon works himself into a glorious lather in the middle of “Louverture,” which then glides into a spooky industrial graveyard via Monder’s guitar effects, further contrasted by what sounds like hand-drumming from Perlson. “Cost” — a beautiful but bittersweet finale that could easily reference the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2008 or the centuries of political treachery recounted by Avey in the liner notes — provides ample space for the remind us of their egalitarian kinetics and telepathy of the trio without Zenon or Monder. On this track and his solo interlude, Avey is bold and precise, with influences from both Phillip Glass and Vijay Iyer. As delightful as his pianism is here, however, the ambitious comprehension of Authority Melts From Me reminds us that Avey won the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Competition in Composition. On the cusp of his 30s, expect many more hours of riveting music to emerge from his pen — and head, and heart.