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Monday, February 24, 2020

Latest New York-Toronto Collaborations

Rob Clutton and Tony Malaby – Offering (Snailbongbong Records, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

Between numerous releases on Clean Feed, No Business, and other labels, Tony Malaby has been measuredly prolific the last few years, including a fruitful string of collaborations with Kris Davis and Nick Fraser. Bassist Rob Clutton, it seems, has been, too. Most notably, he has served as the leader of his quartet The Cluttertones but he has also worked with everyone from Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton to fellow Torontonian classic-jazz devotee Steve Koven to Jandek and, yes, Nick Fraser.

Malaby, of course, is familiar. He is a mainstay of the downtown music scene. I have several of his releases and have seen him perform numerous times. Toronto-based Clutton, however, was unfamiliar to me before this release.

The music on Offering is refreshingly tender. It is not that it lacks it flourishes, clanks, or shrieks, but the focus lies more in the interaction of bluesy sax melodies and delicate, mournful bass lines that, at their best, bring to mind a Haden-esque dynamism between the soft (and sometimes too saccharine) to the angular and deeply percussive. Tracks on Offering run the gamut from the melodious (especially “Offering,” “Latitude” and Nick Fraser’s “Sketch #11”) to the clunky and freeer (“Twig,” “Swerve” (Malaby really shines on this one), “Triology”) to the soulfully downtown (“Polar”). There is something for nearly everyone on this album, whether the adventurous listener (at moments) or those who favor more lustrous contemporary jazz improvisation. Although tracks tend to be short vignettes and to vary stylistically, however, this album has a cohesion and completeness that is often missing from these types of duo recordings. An enjoyable listen, through and through.

Nick Fraser, Kris Davis, Tony Malaby with Ingrid Laubrock and Lina Allemano - Zoning (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Taylor McDowell

Zoning is sophomore recording from the Fraser/Davis/Malaby trio following their 2015 release on CleanFeed Records. The trio is augmented here by Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone) and Lina Allemano (trumpet) on half the album - logical choices if you consider the fruitful network between these players. Fraser is a mainstay of fellow Torontonian Allemano’s groups - the Lina Allemano Four and Titanium Riot. Davis and Laubrock have a rich shared history, working together on projects such as Laubrock’s Contemporary Chaos Practices, Davis’s Capricorn Climber, and Paradoxical Frog with Tyshawn Sorey. Whatever Fraser’s reasoning for inviting these two to the session, it was a brilliant decision.

Fraser clearly takes advantage of the additional voices in his writing. Perhaps the fact that he penned all three of the quintet pieces suggests that he had something in mind for the expanded roster. Fraser’s compositions play with counterpoint and juxtapose notation against freedom. The rollicking title track demonstrates these tactics, where different voices are employed in layering melody atop melody, or melody atop improvisation. Notably, composed elements contrast against free sections at different scales - like macro and microstructures within an improvised setting. “Wells Tower,” for example, is a swinging affair with horns playing in unison before the structure crumbles into rowdy group improvisation. Even as the quintet kicks aside their music stands, Fraser and Davis wittingly interject a swinging drive and familiar ostinato that gives a sense of cohesion even in the more rambunctious moments. The group blends the transitions between structure and freedom in such a way that it feels so natural and seamless (listen to the gradual construction in “Sketch 46” for proof). I suspect outstanding penmanship and musicianship are both due credit for this feat.

The trio pieces are equally rewarding listens. “Events,” written by Davis, is a blustering workout with a brief theme that gives way to a muscular free-for-all, ending in a slow-burning coda. “Charismatics,” credited to Malaby is a freewheeling event during which both Malaby and Davis interrupt the heated interplay with a quick staccato theme - more like a randomly recurring thought than an actual melody. The album closes with a brief improvisation which, after the preceding tracks, feels like a gentle sobering from the rush. Zoning is a thrilling listen that demonstrates how intelligent composition, combined with prodigious musicianship and individualism, can feel so wonderfully free.