Tony Malaby – Paloma Recio (New World Records)
Paul Dunmall – Ancient and Future Airs (CF 138)
Paloma Recio (“loud dove”), the debut of saxophonist Tony Malaby’s quartet of the same name, is marked by the ghostly sonorities and harmonic wiles of guitarist Ben Monder, plus the flexible support of bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Nasheet Waits. Together, the four sound like ships navigating intrepidly in the fog of night—an aesthetic that contrasts vividly with Ancient and Future Airs by Paul Dunmall’s Sun Quartet, featuring Malaby, bassist Mark Helias and drummer/vibraphonist Kevin Norton.
We’ve come to know Malaby as at home in a wide variety of settings as both a leader and collaborator. Paloma Recio is another adventurous and well-paced set, poised on the knife’s edge between structured composition and free improvisation.
Following the quick, rolling, African-tinged rhythm of “Obambo” and the balladic rubato motion of “Lucedes,” “Alechinsky” is an extended abstraction conceived through a graphic score. “Hidden,” “Boludos” and “Puppets,” three short improvised pieces, are then laid out consecutively, leading into the woozy, evocative “Sonoita”. The final three cuts unfold via seamless segues into something more architectural, beginning with “Loud Dove,” easing into “Third Mystery” and closing with a muted, reverent treatment of Frederic Mompou’s “Música Callada” (“silent music”). The first movement of this 28-part classical work is titled “Angelico,” which leads one to wonder whether Malaby chose it to honor his wife, pianist-composer Angelica Sanchez. In any case, it’s a solemn and stately finish. Monder adapts the original solo-piano harmony into something typically dense and unsettling.
Mark Helias does bass duty on Ancient and Future Airs, drawing on a rapport he and Malaby have developed in the trio Open Loose. Of greater interest, of course, is Malaby’s interaction with fellow saxist Paul Dunmall, an iconic English improviser and in many ways Malaby’s artistic forebearers.
Two days after his appearance at the 2008 Vision Festival with Andrew Cyrille and Henry Grimes, Dunmall assembled the Sun Quartet at New York’s Living Theater for this live recording. They stretch for over 47 minutes on “Ancient Airs” and follow it with the eight-minute addendum “Future Airs”. The improvisations are fairly no-holds-barred, yet there’s ebb and flow and a certain delicacy, particularly during the vibraphone passages, which begin and end the first piece. Dunmall, in the right channel, has a steelier, more even sound on tenor; his bagpipes solo just after the 26-minute mark shifts the timbral emphasis remarkably. Malaby, mixed in the center on tenor and soprano, is more guttural, evoking cracks and imperfections and a curious vulnerability. Far from mimicking or taking a back seat to the more experienced Dunmall, he asserts the very strengths that have made him a banner name in his own right.