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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tony Malaby’s Paloma Recio - Incantation Suite (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

It’s been seven long years since Tony Malaby’s debut with the Paloma Recio quartet (Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums), and that has given us plenty of time to wonder just what the group would sound like the second time around. The first recording was a singular affair, incorporating a number of musical idioms and styles that might, at first glance, seem irreconcilable: Latin-tinged rhythms, smoky lounge-jazz, labyrinthine improvisations, and hints of smoldering ambience. Under Malaby’s expert direction, however, all of these disparate elements came together perfectly. Now, we get the Incantation Suite on Clean Feed, and a quick glance at the title and tracklist lets you know that things have changed; whereas the debut album contained ten pieces of varying length, Incantation Suite is composed of four long-form compositions, all of which are presumably expressions of the same overarching theme. How do Paloma Recio fare with this change? Well, let’s get right to it!

“Glass” takes its time to unfold, opening with a sparse, disquieting figure from Monder’s guitar and Opsvik’s bowed bass. Gradually, Waits rolls in on tenebrous (and, yes, glassy) waves of cymbals, and Malaby follows with an expressive series of notes that, rather than lift the piece out of the gloom, add an additional layer of desolation. As far as openings go, “Glass” is exquisite: it’s an exercise in world-building, establishing a mood and emotional tone that help to immerse the listener. “Artifact” is decidedly more uptempo, beginning with a bop-beholden melody that, for all its charm, still carries an air of melancholia. Monder’s clean, razor-thin guitar-lines branch throughout the piece like fractures in baked earth, but Malaby is quick to disperse those with his own hot-blooded cries. Waits is especially noteworthy, never satisfying himself with predictable rhythms; instead, he plays with an elasticity and polyrhythmic dexterity that instills the piece with irrepressible vigor and vitality.
“Hive” returns to the slow-burning atmosphere of the opener, with Opsvik again contributing with his expressive arco-playing. On soprano, Malaby shows why he is so widely celebrated in the world of creative jazz: he can produce delicate, gossamer-thin strands that float, fog-like, over the composition, or he can pour out tortured howls. He can tantalize with short stretches of melody, or he can stun with primal outbursts. For Malaby, there is no meaningful distinction to be made between the “in” and “out” worlds of jazz - he inhabits both in his own distinct way, vacillating between them with an amphibious abandon.

The final piece, “Procedure,” is also the longest. Opening with Opsvik’s hesitant, inquisitive bass, the piece quickly becomes a sure-footed behemoth (perhaps the one pictured on the album’s cover?). Waits foregoes rhythmic complexity for sheer power, pounding and pushing the piece forward with an inexorable force. Likewise, Monder’s clean, precise lines are replaced with fretwork that lacerates and shreds. Incantation Suite is illustrative of just how masterful Paloma Recio are when it comes to the building-and-releasing of tension: as “Procedure” develops, Malaby’s playing becomes steadily more frenetic and unhinged, Waits rolls across the kit with near-torrential might, and Monder sends out a repetitive, mesmerizing figure that is slowly engulfed by the flood that surrounds him. By the end of the composition, he (as well as Opsvik) have “given themselves up” to the deluge, and “Procedure” ends in an ecstatic eruption.

Incantation Suite is both a continuation of Paloma Recio’s debut and a fulfilment of its promise. The pieces have gotten longer and more daring, they’ve even become more incendiary and exciting, but they’ve abandoned none of the dusky charm of the first recording. As the title suggests, Incantation Suite is a work to be taken in whole - just like an incantation, these four compositions come together in just the right way to work magic on the listener. If you give Paloma Recio a chance, you’re sure to fall under their spell.


Colin Green said...

Excellent album, and review.