While the previous album by bassist/composer Mario Pavone, Remembering Thomas, was a conscious tribute to the late saxophonist/composer/band-mate Thomas Chapin, his latest is a tribute as well, though nine of the disc's 10 tunes are Pavone originals. Totem Blues is very much in the "tradition" of Chapin's music - a heartfelt combination of swinging hard bop and avant/free jazz, mindful of the foundations of jazz and improvised music but never limited by them, both forward-looking and accessible.
Many of the pieces here - "Bass Song," "Sequence, " to name two - recall primo early 60s Charles Mingus: rousing, rowdy-but-not-sloppy ensemble playing that's full of likeably abrupt twists n' turns; tart, energized free-bop solos that are often rich with blues feeling; sardonic, mischievously ominous themes; raunchy, vocally-inflected trombone playing; hearty swing. All the players get to shine without going overboard (something else in common w/ Mingus) - Peter Madsen is luminously lyrical (as usual) and the reed-fellows sound as if anointed by Rahsaan Roland Kirk (and the clarinets of Mike DiRubbo and George Sovak is a novel component).
While not a landmark release, Totem Blues is a solid listen than manages to be rough-edged and amiable, like a good whiskey that goes down smooth but has a real kick to it.