Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo – Somos Agua (CF 304)
Somos Agua, the third album from Tony Malaby’s trio, Tamarindo, is dense and demanding and may, in some quarters, feel too oblique to merit a second try. Malaby’s sound, especially on tenor saxophone, but on soprano as well, is often subterranean – filled, as it is, with dead ends and these jerky, knotted lines that pull you under, over, and, ultimately, a long way from the figures he’s composed. Unlike his last Clean Feed disc, Novela (2011) – a nonet expertly arranged by pianist Kris Davis – or some of his work as a sideman (from, say, Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas to John Hollenbeck’s large ensemble), where he also sways from husky, multiphonic shards to wicked, pinpoint puzzles, Somos Agua’s signposts blur. For nearly 60 minutes you feel thrown into a maze.
But what an incredible maze it is. Somos Aqua rewards close, sustained listening. It is filled with queries and quickly shifting scenes and the very highest levels of musical interaction. Tamarindo is often billed as a saxophone trio. It isn’t. Malaby is the only horn, but bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits aren’t accompanists. This is a cooperative, and an extremely accomplished operation.
Malaby’s six pieces run together like a loose, stripped-down suite. Every motif seems to have sprung from an aspect of the group’s aesthetic; the lines mirror how these men work. So a sharp, lock-step figure (“Little Head”) grows into a sprawling, bouncing improvisation. A subtle, seemingly scripted call-and-response (“*matik-matik*”) becomes an electrifying swinger. Everything is drawn for three. The finale (“Somos Agua”), the date’s only open piece, deepens the intensity of the trio investigation: Parker’s grave, arco introduction, Malaby’s squall – husky and stuttering and poised – as the three examine and reexamine, prod and poke, rummaging in the minute spaces between sound and rhythm.
If this trio has very few peers, Waits’s performance should land on its own end-of-the-year lists. His command of the drum set can be frightening. On “Can’t Find You…,” perhaps the record’s high point, his panorama of percussive color and control sets everything in motion. He’ll reassemble the time. He’ll spur the drama. Midway in, things drop down. Waits pauses, before an uprush (cymbals, snare, high-hat, tom), a swirling, driving, terrifically complex notion of time, as things fade, and a remarkable 20-second roll. Parker’s pulse snaps Malaby and Waits into play and, out of nothing, the drummer conjures up a magnificent bounce. It takes 10 extraordinary minutes to get here: a rugged abstraction morphing into a gallop and an unforgettable groove.