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Tony Malaby - Paloma Recio

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Artist: Tony Malaby

Album: Paloma Recio

Label: New World

Review date: Jun. 2, 2009


Tony Malaby - "Obambo" (Paloma Recio)


In the last decade, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby has transformed himself from a superb band member to a serious leader. Of all the fine recordings he’s put out – from his vivid early date Cosas onward – this latest is his very best as a leader. Paloma Recio is also the first recording of his new group, which shares the album’s name. With him here are guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Eivind Opsvik, and drummer Nasheet Waits. A top notch lineup for sure, but what’s so winning about the group is the way they can combine their gifts for expression with a knowing exploration of Malaby’s thoughtful, often quite memorable themes.

Opening track “Obambo” gets off to a hot start, with a crackling groove from Waits, a tight, repeating figure from Monder, and some intense counterpoint from Opsvik. After logging time with the likes of Tim Berne, Malaby has really incorporated this kind of shifting rhythmic base into his vocabulary, combing a kind of shifting, bustling prog-prov with the lyrical intensities of his saxophone playing. The track just kills, with Waits’ pliable, fluid groove everywhere and Monder sounding as unpredictable as ever, with muffled distortion flying around when you least expect it, brilliantine shapes elsewhere.

After the intensities of the opener, it’s something of a relief to enter the submarine world of the impressionistic “Lucedes” and from there into “Alechinsky,” one of Paloma Recio’s most intriguing tunes. It’s built around an ominously chiming Monder chord, a kind of musical pivot point around which players construct very intriguing anti-solos: Malaby does some soft cooing and mouthpiece work, Opsvik a low groan, Waits a skitter-scatter retreat. This part of the tune showcases one of the group’s strengths: its ability to pursue structural ideas without sounding clunky. The tune’s latter half showcases its more obvious strength, its improvising heart. After a bustling tenor trio section, one that is no mere conventional gesture, there’s a memorable exchange between Malaby and Monder, with purring tenor contrasting with some cosmic stuff from the guitarist.

As impressive as the whole is, my ears keep returning to this tenor/guitar contrast. Even on the series of slightly fragmentary tracks in the middle of the record – “Hidden,” “Boludos,” and “Puppets” – we get a chance to revel in this wonderful sound, the husky and somehow world-weary saxophone and Monder’s heavily treated, searing lines. In some weird way, it reminded me of an old record on the JMT label called Corporate Art (with a slightly reminiscent combo in Christy Doran and Gary Thomas). But everything about Malaby’s compositions is less brawny and more romantic than that combo, as is obvious from their lusty reading of the melodious “Loud Dove” and the gorgeously melancholy “Third Mystery,” with Monder’s psych gestures sounding positively sweeping. (I just love the way he ends rapid, fairly dense phrases with blazing sustain that seems to render everything preceding elastic.)

It’s so tough for a jazz musician to stand out these days. So it’s all the greater pleasure to heap praises on Paloma Recio, a simply fantastic debut from a killer group. They bring us into that kind of topsy-turvy world where improvisation and composition merge artfully, realized in beautiful themes and all shot through with pulse-quickening energy.

By Jason Bivins

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