Tag Archives: John Hollenbeck

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano
Tony Malaby – Novela (Arragements by Kris Davis)
Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis’ student days intriguingly foreshadow her future endeavors: classical studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music; two summers at the Banff Centre for the Arts’ jazz program, where she met future collaborator Tony Malaby; then, moving to New York City to study composition with Jim McNeely. Her subsequent associations with peers like John Hollenbeck and Ingrid Laubrock, as well as her membership in collectives such as Paradoxical Frog and the RIDD Quartet, have developed in tandem with her own varied projects.

Aeriol Piano is her first unaccompanied outing. The solo recital has long been considered the ultimate proving ground for pianists; encouraging the broadest dynamic range from a performer, it captures every nuance of an artist’s expressive capabilities. From a respectfully abstract linear reading of Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are” and a handful of fully improvised miniatures to the ambitious “Saturn Return,” Davis explores the full potential of her instrument, both inside and out.

A product of her influences, Davis seamlessly incorporates lessons learned from disparate sources, adapting the dissonant intervals of Cecil Taylor, probing lyricism of Paul Bley and understated minimalism of Morton Feldman into a singular style largely devoid of the clichés of the jazz tradition, such as block chords or left-handed bass lines. Though capable of summoning turbulent salvos for dramatic effect, it is her ability to craft poetic melodies from oblique lyrical fragments – infusing heady abstraction with heartfelt beauty – that is her most impressive talent. The prepared piano opus “Saturn Return” takes this aesthetic a step further, serving as the conceptual centerpiece of the record. An episodic rumination through various stylistic precedents, Davis builds from romantic musings to thunderous drama before embarking on a lyrical exposition that draws equally from aleatoric experimentation and minimalist formalism.

Davis’ growing talent as a composer and improviser is well documented, but her skills as an arranger and conductor have been largely unheard, until now. Tony Malaby’s Novela features Davis’ multifaceted arrangements of six Malaby-penned compositions originally conceived for trio and/or quartet. Davis’ working relationship with Malaby dates back 10 years, to the formation of her longstanding quartet. In the ensuing years Malaby has explored a variety of instrumental line-ups to extend the breadth of his eclectic writing, from bare-bones acoustic trios to electrified quartets. Novela is his most extravagant creation yet, a horn-heavy nonet that combines the unfettered zeal of a riotous street band and the tonal sensitivity of a chamber ensemble.

The session consists entirely of previously recorded compositions; two even date back to Sabino (Arabesque), his 2000 debut as a leader. Although presumably selected for the sake of expediency, these six tunes provide Davis the opportunity to demonstrate her knack for transposing skeletal themes into intricate symphonic tone poems, revealing a previously undocumented talent in the process. Davis’ urbane charts subtly hint at her studies with McNeely, tracing a line back through the innovations of George Schuller and George Russell. They also conjure memories of the loft era, with zany march motifs and manic collective improvisations that owe as much to Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton as they do Raymond Scott.

Opening with brooding intensity, “Floating Head” features contrapuntal horn formations churning like storm clouds gathering in pursuit of the leader’s evasive soprano. “Floral and Herbacious” follows, blossoming into a cornucopia of dynamic ensemble shifts led by Ralph Alessi’s melancholy trumpet and Joachim Badenhorst’s caterwauling bass clarinet. After a dramatic exchange between Dan Peck’s bleating multiphonic tuba (played with a tenor saxophone mouthpiece) and his section mates, the ensemble swells behind Malaby’s rhapsodic tenor, concluding an excursion as quixotic as the surreal sonic travelogue “Mother’s Love.” The influence of Raymond Scott is heard in the quirky “Warblepeck,” which rivals “Remolino” for pure capriciousness. The former tune demonstrates the nonet’s capacity for rhythmic fervor as well as orchestral color, counterbalancing pneumatic horn charts with John Hollenbeck’s kaleidoscopic percussion accents. Davis’ spacious arrangements repeatedly reveal a penchant for such dramatic pairings; she isolates Michael Attias’ diaphanous alto at the outset of “Cosas,” stages a garrulous duet between Peck’s tuba and Ben Gerstein’s trombone during the coda of “Floating Head” and joins Peck and baritone saxophonist Andrew Hadro for a riotous trio interlude on the madcap closer, “Remolino.”

While Davis is more than just an arranger here – she also conducts the horns and plays piano – ultimately, the star of the show is Malaby, whose unbound expressionism continues to push further and further beyond conventional tonal extremes with each release. Inspired to lofty heights by Davis’ opulent charts, Tony Malaby’s Novela is one of the saxophonist’s most compelling efforts to date.


Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Tony Malaby’s Novela: Interesting Larger Band Arrangements of Malaby Pieces by Kris Davis

Tony Malaby’s Novela (CF 232)
Tony Malaby’s recent release with his nine-member Novela group (Clean Feed 232) gives us a broader view of Malaby’s music than might be typical of his recordings. The four-reed, three brass (including baritone sax and tuba) front line-up provides a rich mini-big-band sonance. Kris Davis arranges the Malaby pieces and plays piano. John Hollenbeck’s drums add percussive drive.

All the Malaby compositions have been recorded previously on other albums. The new Kris Davis arrangements allow latitude, freedom and collective/individual solo time. And they present Malaby’s musical ideas in very full sound.

The results are quite impressive. Malaby, Attias, Badenhorst, Hadro, Alessi, Gerstein and Peck make the horn section sing and effectively straddle the free limberness with the compositional structures invoked for each particular piece. Ms. Davis’s arrangements give lattitude but also flesh out the critical melodic-rhythmic-harmonic scaffolding that supports and founds each piece.

It is excellent work, ambitious and exciting, well wrought and spontaneous at the same time. Very much recommended.

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Tony Malaby’s Novela (CF 232)
Olaf Rupp/Joe Williamson/Tony Buck – Weird Weapons 2 (Creative Sources)  Splice – LAB (Loop Records)
Bioni-Solberg-Brow – Hopscotch (ILK)

Something In The Air: Expat Canadians Create High-Class Improv

Almost from the time the professional music business was established in this country, the expected route for success has been for artists to head off to the larger market down south and set up shop there. Canadians from Percy Faith and Maynard Ferguson to Joni Mitchell and Teresa Stratas effectively followed that formula. But today, as American musical hegemony lessens and modern communications almost literally shrink the world, musicians, especially those who play improvised music, can demonstrate that a permanent home in Europe is as beneficial as becoming an American resident.

Take Vancouver-born Joe Williamson for instance. On Weird Weapons 2

Creative Sources CS197 CD the bassist who now lives in Stockholm after stints in London, Berlin and Montreal, is matched with German guitarist Olaf Rupp and drummer Tony Buck, an Australian turned Berliner, for two extended selections of intuitive improv. No lounge guitar trio, this band creates sonic sparks that almost visibly fly every which way. Rupp’s constant, intense strumming often elasticizes into slurred fingering as Buck buzzes drumstick on cymbals, pops his toms, door-knocks his snares and rattles and reverberates any number of bells, chains and wood blocks for additional textures. Keeping the improvisations grounded is Williamson, who splays, stretches or saws upon his instrument’s strings, scroll and body wood when he’s not creating added continuum by slapping out pedal point resonation. On the nearly 30-minute “Buckram”, the three reach such a level of polyphonic coherence that the cumulative textures seem to ooze into every sonic space. Moving to the forefront then fading back into the ensemble, Rupp pinpoints jagged licks that eventually accelerate to stentorian multi-string runs, as Buck concentrates pitter-pattering and agitatedly clanking into tremolo whacks. Finally, a climax is reached, as Williamson’s multi-string variations, consisting of col legno strokes vibrating with a near-electronic pulse, push the three to a decisive conclusion.

Moving less than 300 kilometres southwest to Copenhagen, lives drummer Kevin Brow, an Orangeville native and part of the trio on Hopscotch ILK 179 CD completed by Italian-born tenor saxophonist Francesco Bigoni, another Copenhagen resident, plus local guitarist Mark Solborg. Paced and cooperative, Brow’s rhythmic sensibility here is like Williamson’s on the other CD. Brow’s backbeat advances or bonds the others’ extended techniques during 10 notable improvisations. With Solberg’s solos including distorted power chords with rock music antecedents plus organ-like echoes, and Bigoni’s bitten-off reed strategies accelerating to intense, repetitive phraseology, the drummer’s playing creates thematic definition. Case in point is Almost, Before Brow’s hard thwacks define a conclusive tipping point where unison harmonies from the guitarist and saxist advance to similar legato patterning, the variegated strategy from each differs markedly. Solberg’s licks are trebly and echoing, while Bigoni’s behind-the-beat tones split and squeak. The percussionist can also express himself more forcefully as he does with carefully positioned press rolls and flanges on “Brainwashing”. Meantime the saxophonist appears to be exploring the limits of his instrument with intense vibrato, lip bubbling sprays and pressurized staccato tones, as serpentine guitar strokes harden into splayed fingering plus crunching, echoing twangs, leavened by a bit of amp buzz. Bigoni’s tone alternating among magisterial reed quivers, speech-like inflection and legato lines, which helps define the remaining tracks’ scope(s).

Over in the United Kingdom, the band Splice consists of two British players – trumpeter Alex Bonney and drummer Dave Smith – plus French reedist Robin Fincker, who has lived in London for a dozen years and Montreal-born Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. Tremblay, who plays bass guitar and electronics, has taught at England’s University of Huddersfield since 2005 and oversees its electronic music studio. Perhaps that’s why this disc is entitled LAB, Loop Records 1013. It certainly has a more extensive electronic palate than the others. Although slippery and shuddering bass guitar runs are heard infrequently throughout, Tremblay’s electronics maintain the sometimes opaque methodical pulsations which pervade the disc. A track such as “The Wanderer” is smooth and bouncy, built on Fincker’s chromatic clarinet runs, Bonney’s trumpet obbligatos, a shuffle drum beat and electro-acoustic coloring that could be Arabic music played on an accordion. The blurry wave forms which elsewhere quiver alongside, process, or complement instrumental textures such as alphorn-like vibration from Fincker’s tenor saxophone, Bonney’s brassy or muted asides and drum pops and backbeat, are more upfront on “Luna Verde”. Stacked horn lines, sliding bass guitar licks and percussion rebounds are accompanied by processed textures that come in-and-out of aural focus. This crackling interface concretely outlines the theme statement from the harmonized horns.

Not surprisingly of course, the stateside lure still exists and is beneficial for some musicians. Vancouver-born, Toronto-educated Pianist Kris Davis, has, after a decade in New York, become one of the go-to musicians there. While the Canadians on the other CDs may provide the backdrop for improvisations, Davis not only plays on Novela Clean Feed CF 232 CD by Tony Malaby’s nine-piece band, but wrote all the arrangements and conducts. A career retrospective for Malaby, Davis recasts six of his original compositions to show off his tenor and soprano saxophone prowess. The extended “Remolino” for example is given a Mexicali flavor by intertwined horn lines broadened with Dan Peck’s harsh tuba snorts and drummer John Hollenbeck’s press rolls. Dramatic chording from the pianist introduces a Malaby soprano saxophone solo which reaches an elevated level of pressurized multiphonics before downshifting to moderato timbres in unison with the other horns. Before a climax of piano key plinks and a brass fanfare, the saxophonist winds his way among clanks and scrapes from the percussionist and trombonist Ben Gerstein’s brays as close harmonies are produced by alto saxophonist Michael Attias, baritone saxophonist Andrew Hadro and Joachim Badenhorst’s bass clarinet. Carefully shaping arrangements to expose distinct sound tinctures like xylophone rhythms or plunger trombone friction, Davis makes “Floral and Herbaceous” another highpoint. Following trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s lead and ending with a crescendo of staccato noises, the tune plays out as a dual between Malaby’s distinctive soprano reed bites and a sequence of more muted tones from the baritone saxophonist.

Whether it’s as co-leader, arranger, teacher or improviser, each of these Canadians appears to have found the proper foreign context for his or her musical development.

Squid´s Ear review by Florence Wetzl

Tony Malaby – Novela (CF 232)
For his new CD Novela, saxophonist Tony Malaby made an interesting choice: he decided to cull six of his compositions from previous releases and present them afresh. This time he’s working with a new set of musicians and has greater intimacy with the tunes, but the biggest difference is that each piece has been given a fresh arrangement by pianist Kris Davis, who has channeled her inner Gil Evans in order to create exciting configurations that make the songs shine anew.

Malaby has plenty of experience playing with larger groups, including Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra and Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, and this knowledge has clearly informed his facility as a bandleader. He elicits excellent performances from Novela’s mega-powerful nonet, a group composed of Malaby on soprano and tenor sax, the excellent Michael Attias on alto sax, Andrew Hadro on baritone sax, Joachim Badenhorst on bass clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Davis on piano and conducting, and John Hollenbeck on drums and percussion.

The first song, “Floating Head,” exemplifies the virtues of this CD. The music is fast, bold, and powerful, the arrangement full of delicious swoops of impeccably synchronized instruments. There are many delightful layers of sounds and textures in this song, many unexpected accents and shifts, but although the music is positively thick with ideas, everything is still tastefully executed. One of the pleasures of this piece is hearing Dan Peck’s tuba, an instrument that eminent arrangers such as Evans and Claude Thornhill used with great inventiveness; the tuba creates a rich bottom for the entire piece, stretching both the song and the listener’s ear. Davis is fabulous on piano: her angular, agile approach keeps the music on its toes and ignites the entire tune.

Mention must also be made of the excellent “Warblepeck.” It’s a playful, lilting song with funky sax work by Malaby and fabulous percussion by Hollenbeck. The arrangement incorporates a marvelous polyrhythmic drive, and includes some wild slippy-slidey horn work that creates a positively joyful cacophony.

At the first public performance of his Birth of the Cool nonet, Miles Davis broke tradition (as usual) by insisting that the sign in front of the club read: “Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis.” Likewise, it’s impossible to extol the virtues of Novela without noting: “Arrangements by Kris Davis.” It’s heartening to see that the art of arranging is still going strong in the jazz tradition, and Malaby’s excellent CD shines a light for others to follow.

Music is More reviews by Tim Niland

Tony Malaby – Novela – arr. by Kris Davis (CF 232)
Looking both forward and backward, saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby revisits some of his earlier compositions in a new setting, a nonet arranged by up and coming pianist and arranger Kris Davis. The larger band allows for a much wider palette of colors, and Davis uses them very well from tuba and bass clarinet at the low end to soprano saxophone at the high end. This cornucopia of shading and texture brings a new level of detail to the compositions, and there is a palpable sense of discovery in the musicians playing. Besides Malaby and Davis, the band consists of Andrew Hadro on baritone saxophone, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, Joachim Badenhorst on bass clarinet, John Hollenbeck on drums, Michael Attias on alto saxophone and Ralph Alessi on trumpet. Highlights are the music are many but the leadoff track “Floating Head” (one of my favorites from the Tamarindo LP) begins with ominous low-sounding horns. Developing into a theme filled with musical color, strong full band make way for a ripe saxophone solo accompanied by bright sounding piano. Soprano saxophone, and a strong rhythm section juxtapose low tones against strong trumpet. “Floral and Herbaceous” has a slower and question feel, looking for musical answers amongst the silence. Building a raw, guttural saxophone feature and playing if off against percussion and other horns gives the music great texture and context. A slower movement builds to an intense section that leads to an unsettling conclusion. Saxophone and percussion flutter at the beginning of “Warblepeck” contrasted by a cartoon-ish percussion or electronics (hard to tell which.) The horns and reeds develop a near march like feel that is worldly, colorful and a lot of fun. Slow and spacious, “Mother’s Love” is the ballad of the set with horns and saxes set afloat in spacetime. Haunted, rolling bass clarinet and bells keep the music subtle. This was a very interesting work, allowing the listener to not only hear the talents of this excellent group of musicians, but learn about Malaby as a composer and especially Davis as an arranger of considerable talent. Hopefully someday soon she will get a grant to allow her to develop a big band project all her own.

Tomajazz review by Pachi Tapiz

Kris Davis Aeriol Piano (CF 233)
Tony Malaby Novela (CF 232)

Entre las grabaciones publicadas por el sello portugués Clean Feed durante los últimos meses destaca Aeriol Piano, primera grabación en solitario de la joven pianista canadiense Kris Davis. Una artista con una discografía no muy abundante, pero que ya se había hecho notar con CD como Paradoxical Frog (en Clean Feed) o con Anti-House (Intakt) de la saxofonista Ingrid Laubrock. El disco es uno de los más interesantes en este formato de los publicados en los últimos meses. Quizás como una declaración de principios, el disco comienza con una versión del clásico “All The Things You Are” que Davis va construyendo desde fuera (lo improvisado), hacia dentro (la reconocible melodía del tema). Le siguen unas creaciones que aparecen sumamente trabajadas y muestran un universo fascinante. Aunque en algún momento su música puede parecer cercana a las creaciones para artilugios mecánicos de creadores como Conlon Nancarrow (aunque sin el virtuosismo humanamente imposible de ese compositor), en otros recuerda en su lentitud y melancolía a la música de Federico Mompou. En una situación opuesta, hay temas en los que se muestra sumamente intensa en su virtuosismo.

La pianista también aparece en el CD Novela del saxofonista Tony Malaby. Además de tocar su instrumento, se encarga de los arreglos de las seis composiciones. Tony Malaby es uno de esos saxofonistas que suelen pasar desapercibidos ante el gran público, y que sin embargo tiene tras de sí una discografía muy consistente. En esta ocasión graba en directo una colección de temas que ya había publicado anteriormente, aunque la principal novedad es el gran grupo que le acompaña. Por allí están el trompetista Ralph Alessi, el baterista y percusionista John Hollenbeck (de Claudia Quintet entre otros grupos, o acompañante de Meredith Monk). Llama también la atención una formación con una potente sección de vientos integrada por tres saxofones (soprano y tenor, alto, y barítono), clarinete bajo, trombón, trompeta y tuba, más piano y batería – percusión. Los temas son un placer auditivo de principio a fin. Si en uno sobresalen el trombón y la tuba (por poner un ejemplo), en el siguiente lo hacen los arreglos. Si en otro momento los solos son la parte importante, a continuación la música nos atrapa distribuida en distintas secciones. También es destacable los diferentes caracteres que toman las piezas, yendo de lo más directo y animado, a lo más abstracto y aparentemente árido. Kris Davis demuestra con estos dos discos que es otra de esas grandes nuevas pianistas que están irrumpiendo en la escena, alguien a quien habrá que seguir con mucha atención.

New York Times review for Novela´s CD launch by Nate Chinen

Roiling Through an Undertow

Tony Malaby  (tenor and soprano saxophone), Ben Gerstein (trombone), Joachim Badenhorst (bass clarinet), Dan Peck (tuba), Michaël Attias (alto saxophone), Andrew Hadro (baritone saxophone) and Ralph Alessi (trumpet) at Jazz Gallery.

The tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby has a burly but beseeching tone, and in his own bands he often pushes toward an amiable ruckus. Novela, the nine-piece band he presented at the Jazz Gallery on Sunday night, takes this predilection to its logical extreme. Drawing from “Novela” (Clean Feed), an album released in September, the group played a sprawling set of faintly episodic, heavily textured music, pausing only a couple of times to re-establish a center of gravity. The distinctive color of Mr. Malaby’s voice, on soprano as well as tenor, was often lost on a crowded canvas. He seemed totally fine with that.

To some extent “Novela” is a retrospective for him: its repertory consists of reworked compositions from albums going back almost 20 years. What gives this album its own identity is the lineup of timbres, with three saxophones, along with bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, piano and drums. All the arrangements are by the pianist and composer Kris Davis, a longtime associate of Mr. Malaby.

Periodically during the first set Ms. Davis left her piano bench to conduct the ensemble, usually during a slow-dawning, expectant ballad. Her voicings tended to suggest a troubled serenity, with chords full of close intervals for the horn-and-reeds brigade. “Floating Head,” the set opener, had a strong, brackish undertow, with tuba, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet puffing a vamp in triple meter; the rest of the ensemble played a sprightly polyrhythm, moving against the grain. The ideal seemed to be a classic Charles Mingus roil, knockabout but self-assured. It didn’t quite get there.

The uncertain feeling in the set’s first half probably had something to do with all the free improvisation that cropped up within the tunes. Which isn’t a knock on the playing. One potent scramble near the end of “Floating Head” involved just Dan Peck, on tuba, and Ben Gerstein, on trombone. A full-ensemble blast, near the end of “Floral and Herbaceous,” delivered some sharp disorientation, a cacophony of whinnies and squeals. And a duet between Ms. Davis and the alto-saxophonist Michaël Attias was full of reflective tension and sly allusions to the chord changes of “All the Things You Are.”

What really worked, on a full-band basis, was the twinkling delirium of “Warblepeck,” with the drummer John Hollenbeck hammering toylike mallet-percussion instruments, and the trumpeter Ralph Alessi soloing above the fray. Something even more compellingly feverish came at the set’s close: “Remolino,” an incantation in the spirit of Albert Ayler, with everyone in the band intoning the melodic line as one.

Soon after that collective fanfare had passed, the band moved on to a sinuous groove in 5/4 meter, and Mr. Malaby took an impassioned soprano-saxophone solo, building his argument around the shape of the melody. It was woolly but coherent: his most unambiguous showcase of the set, and the one that threw the whole picture into focus.