Okay, let’s just be real. I have to ask. Is Bobby Avey tone-deaf? Is the young pianist, praised in certain jazz circles as an innovator and a sharp voice, just so brilliant that he doesn’t actually hear melody? Does he know what it is? Does he care? Over his body of work, I have asked this question time and again why Avey constantly makes what I consider unlikeable music. We know unlikeable music. Those tonally off, minor all around, completely unnatural sounding hodgepodge of notes that just must be too smart for the rest of us. I have quite a few snobbish tendencies, no doubt. Bobby Avey still makes unlikeable music. However, perhaps he does care, to a degree, what a melody sounds like, maybe in a mathematical sense, throughout his latest album, Inhuman Wilderness, out June 24 on Innervoice Jazz.
I say this because Avey seems to be playing collections of notes, chords as they were, in the appropriately timed places where melodies would be. His notes follow a certain order as if they could be considered pleasant. Rhythmically, the album is great. One can easily get caught in its groove. Much could be said for drummer Jordan Perlson, the anchor of the album. He’s a fascinating drummer, keeping this time, improvising throughout, staying captivating to listen to. Thomson Kneeland on bass is also doing God’s work here, steering the ship on these compositions and earning his shining solo on “I Should Have Known No Less”. With this rhythm section epitomizing every drop of this role in the group, Inhuman Wilderness is actually a fine album. Avey’s frenetic smatterings of constantly off decisions now has a beat, and you can dance to it. His mashing of piano keys, not kinda off like Thelonious Monk in a playful way, but just straight up off, is noticeably easier to listen to once his rhythm is established. His weaving with John O’Ghallagher on alto saxophone, who can at times sound like kindred spirits and at others hold an actually pleasant tune, is endurable.
This is a New York thing. I know it’s a New York thing. It’s one of those things that people call smart and the rest of us are supposed to agree, but most of the time, this isn’t nice music to listen to. It may be right, or cerebral, or whatever you want to call it, but most of the time Bobby Avey makes music I don’t enjoy listening to. However, he makes music that others who yearn for the disjointed will surely please. Because this music, his particular strain of it, is always done right. It’s correct. On this latest release, it’s even cloyingly pleasant, but this is one of those emperors whose clothes I’m just not seeing. However, with Inhuman Wilderness, his poses are on point.
Inhuman Wilderness, the latest release from pianist Bobby Avey, is out June 24th on Innervoice Jazz.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.