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Concert Review: Raphe Malik Quartet

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Little-known trumpeter Raphe Malik appeared Saturday night at the ICA in Boston with his quartet. Malik is most famous for his work with Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons, though he has recently had a creative resurgence of his own. The group that performed in Boston consisted of Malik with multi-reedist Sabir Mateen, bassist Larry Rolands, and drummer Cody Moffett. A special event, this concert was the debut performance of Malik's new composition "Looking East: A Suite in Three Parts." Without an intermission, the evening required stamina on behalf of both the performers and the audience. But fortunately, the pace and flow provided enough variety to hold interest throughout.

Malik's earlier recordings (at least the ones I'm familiar with) have featured him in a free improvisation setting, where each player adds color from his own musical palette without relying on conventional forms. This performance was an exception, mostly because of the rock/funk drumming of Cody Moffett. It was quite unexpected to hear Malik and Mateen play the most far-out post-Ayler wailing imaginable over a get-down- with-it funk groove (meanwhie, bassist Rolands ended up trapped somewhere in the middle). Actually, it worked surprisingly well, and that must have been the sound Malik had in mind when he composed the suite. In the spirit of the avant-garde, Malik brought together disparate elements to see what could happen at their rough intersection. To tie things together, each piece started with a simple theme, stated in unison by Malik and Mateen, then evolved into soloing and group improvisation, eventually returning to a restatement of the theme.

While Malik's virtuosity shone through all along, his playing tended at times to be a bit disjointed—or perhaps just too abstract for these ears. Much of his soloing consisted of melodic stabs jumping registers, repeated trills, or short, impossibly fast runs. The few times he decided to play more melodically, his work garnered more of my interest. However, his playing with Mateen was always mature and synergistic. Malik clearly listens well. (And he talks well too—offering humorous tidbits during the show.) Reedist Sabir Mateen, who switched back and forth between about six different instruments, played with amazing versatility. While he seemed comfortable with slow ballad-like melodies, he was just as adept with dizzying note flurries running at the speed of sound. And when he unleashed his primordial screaming wail, the earth quaked.

In summary: a few surprises, some amazing playing, and a lot of personality. Altogether an excellent show.


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