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Friday, December 28, 2007

Tony Malaby - Tamarindo (Clean Feed, 2007) *****

The end of the year still held a serious contender for the best albums of 2007. Tony Malaby is an absolutely exquisite saxophonist, whose first records "Sabino", "Apparitions" and "Adobe", offered a modern creative kind of jazz, but then he moved into free-er territory with Angelica Sanchez (his wife) and Tom Rainey (two albums which are easy to recommend), but what he brings here exceeds all expectations. This is free music of the highest levels, with three musicians at the top of their skills, with William Parker on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. It seems after several listenings that for each of the tracks the only anchor point is a wonderful melody that Malaby keeps up his sleeve for a long time into the piece, while the trio builds up to its release. And the build-up is extreme, moving over the whole emotional range humans can have, from anger and fear to joy and happiness, with everything in between, captivating from beginning to end, with all three musicians exceeding themselves : Malaby can play hesitantly, sensitively, he soars, sings, stutters and screams, Parker too is sensitive, playing his raw arco, but every so often falling back on powerful vamps, then releasing tension again for more pointillistic efforts, and Waits is stunning too, creating wonderful accents, impacts and depth into the music, counteracting with violence when the melody is soft, or being very subtle in the harder moments. And all three play with melody, sound, rhythm and tempo as if it's the easiest thing on earth, changing them, playing them, changing them again, ...

On the first track "Burried Head", Malaby's playing is sensitive, hesitant, while the rhythm sections just offers support, without rhythm, acting as a sounding board rather, then Parker starts a fast bass run, followed by Waits, pushing Malaby to some high rhythmic stutters, evolving into a repetitive theme conjured up from nowhere, leading into a powerful, fast and mad solo in the middle section, then breaking down again in plaintive and melodic resignation, while Waits plays in different tempo, with counter-rhythms, yet Parker brings them all back together, Malaby ending with a soft melody, a precursor to the albums main theme coming up later.

"La Mariposa" is a softer piece, more abstract in its harmonic development, with Malaby on soprano soaring high like a butterfly. The most beautiful piece is the title track, which starts with a great melodic theme, evolving into some more free expansion of it, then repeating the theme in a whailing, lamenting kind of way, somewhere between jubilant admiration, joy and pain, evolving into screeching fear and utter chaos of the whole trio, until they find their footing again, repeating the theme, resigned, somehow still in jubilant wonder.

On the intro to "Mother's Love", Malaby creates flute-like sounds on his sax, gentle, moving, inviting Parker in to the music with some subtle arco, Waits adding raw percussive accents, flowing the whole into some ambiguous environment of beauty and emotional strain.

The last track "Moving Head" starts with a nice Parker ostinato bass, Waits lightly propulsing the track forward, while Malaby flies above this, not really playing a melody, but talking really, speaking, crying, ... lightly touching upon the theme of the title track, ending in a plaintive long whail.

What they play here is so free, so open, so melodious, yet at the same time so coherent in its sound, its structure and execution, that you wonder how they did it. I've listened to it more than ten times now, I think, yet it's a revelation again with each listen. It's broad, deep, rich, intense, beautiful. This album is superb. Not to be missed.

Listen and download from eMusic.