Ever seen a review of a gig and wished you could have been there? I read about the premiere of Raphe Malik’s Looking East Suite at the Boston ICA on the AAJ website two years ago. Happily for me and everyone else who couldn’t be there, the concert has now been released by Boxholder as a double CD, and what a performance! The concert opens at a breathless pace with ‘Zero Grade’ and hardly lets up for the next 100 minutes – there is just so much music that it is difficult to take it all in without repeated listenings – but that’s what I like – I don’t want music which gives up its secrets and treasures at the first listen.
The group has the same frontline as Malik’s excellent ‘Consequences’ on Eremite (one of my favourite recordings of 1999) with Sabir Mateen wielding an array of reeds alongside Malik’s trumpet. The rhythm section of Cody Moffett on drums and long time associate Larry Roland on bass provides a solid foundation upon which the group edifice is built.
There is no obvious relationship between the parts in the suite apparent from listening to the music, but they can be enjoyed as individual pieces. The variety and pacing of the group structures is evident, from the shuffle rhythms of ‘The Old Your Majesty’ to the flamenco tinged ‘Smooth Moffetting’. Malik’s ensemble music is based on loosely phrased unison lines and simple themes as launchpads for pulse based improvisation, featuring strong solos and lots of group interplay, especially between the horns. After the life affirming polyphony, several of the pieces wind down to a quiet, almost regretful finale, which lends a poignant air to the proceedings.
Malik is a powerful player with a bright brassy sound deployed in darting, fizzing lines and heraldic fanfares. His solos sometimes hew close to the theme, drawing inspiration from it, as in ‘The New Majesty’, while Mateen is more abstract. However a bluesy edge is never far from the surface in the playing of either. Mateen is a superb improviser – he takes a monster tenor solo on ‘Reversal’ replete with sinuous runs, dark blues cries and forays into the high whistle register. Roland is the glue who holds everything together, whether riffing, walking or strumming, and he can turn in a mean solo as well, like his warm melodic solo on ‘Fractals’. Moffett (a holdover from last year’s ‘Storyline’), is responsive, direct, and even funky. There is an empathy apparent between Malik and Moffett, with the drummer echoing the trumpeter’s ideas during his solo on ‘Reversal’, and even having a piece named after him. But this music isn’t all about solos: it is group music and the interplay is what makes it for me – like when Malik restates the theme behind Mateen’s solo and then the ensuing commentary develops into a spirited duet, as on the encore ‘Cosmic G’, with the tenor’s squeal being echoed by whinnying trumpet. That’s just one example among many possibilities on this highly recommended outing.
Personnel: Raphe Malik: b-flat and c trumpets; Sabir Mateen: tenor and alto saxophones, flute, b-flat clarinet, alto clarinet; Larry Roland: bass; Cody Moffett: drums.