Click here to [close]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Four with Tony Malaby - Mind the Gap (Self, 2014) **½

By Stefan Wood

The Big Four is a quartet founded and led by saxophonist Julien Soro, with Stephan Caracci, Fabien Debellefontaine, and Rafael Koerner.  They feature an unusual combination of instruments for a quartet -- saxophone, sousaphone, vibraphone, and drums.  The intent is to create different sonic textures than one would expect from a standard jazz quartet (tuba and vibraphone replacing piano and bass).  On the album "Mind the Gap," they are joined by Tony Malaby, well known NYC based saxophonist whose playing ranges from post bop to free improv.

The album starts strong with "Sound of Divorce", a Threadgill meets 60's Bobby Hutcherson era influenced tune, Debellafontaine providing the rhythms, Koerner delivering propulsive drumming and the others playing their instruments off one another.  Other stand out tracks are "Hymn aux lucioles,"  a very tender ballad, and the high energy track "Floating Head," featuring Caracci's vibe playing.  Soro allows for a lot of freedom for the other musicians to playfully improvise in and out of the confines of his compositions, which allows for a loose playing style, and also at times lack of direction.

There are a lot of confused moments -- a track that starts in one direction will suddenly pause and move elsewhere, unfocused or obtuse.  With the exception of Malaby, the musical chops don't sound very strong, as if they are not convinced or confident with certain pieces.  Sometimes the playing feels derivative, not distinctive.  When they are on, the group's personality comes through, a synthesis of post bop mannerism and free style improv, that acknowledges the past yet looks forward.  It's a decent effort, yet the flaws are too apparent.