Raphé Malik’s discography as a leader is painfully small; especially considering the amount of time he’s spent as an active player on the jazz scene. An FMP date, a pair of Eremites, and a stray session for Mapleshade comprise his complete available output. But rather than being the outcome of any frailty on Malik’s part such a state of affairs is more the result of his uncompromising resolve when it comes to the integrity of his music. Players unwilling to subjugate their creative impulses invariably suffer a stint down the path of most resistance when it comes to recording. Fortunately for Malik his comparative absence from the studio has not been coupled by a lapse in performance. This new disc on Lou Kannenstine’s Boxholder imprint, a label rapidly gaining momentum as one of the finest engaged in the important pursuit of documenting creative improvised music, captures Malik in excellent, if slightly subdued form.
Malik demonstrates an impeccable taste in sidemen on this date. McBee has been devising cyclopean bass lines since the mid-60s and Moffett’s pedigree on percussion includes extensive tutelage from his late father Charles. Indeed the whole distinction of sidemen and leader is superfluous on this session considering the high level of creative interplay which Malik’s compositions emphasize. Hearing Malik as the lone horn is something of a first. All of his other recordings as a leader have featured him with one or more players sharing the front-line. He takes full advantage of the added space this time out from the opening theme of “Incalculable” tracing a melodic line that starts out restrained, but soon gushes forward with rapid acceleration. The ebb and flow continues throughout the piece before a calm-inducing close. “Minimal Blue” lays its bricks atop a simple repeating motif buoyed by McBee’s walking bass and Moffett’s precise press rolls and cymbal punctuation. McBee’s sullen bowed strings are at the center of “Why Not?” engaging Malik’s gently slurred phrasings in a loquacious exchange of ideas while Moffett’s pattering brushes provide astute commentary.
“Nucleus” and “First Valve Blues” show a heavy interest in Blues forms; building invigorating improvised statements from simple themes. On the first Malik, flanked by McBee and Moffett’s supple rhythmic support, turns in one of his most expressive solos and invests his already vociferous lines with a blistering punch. The second piece is a blur of shifting rhythms that goads Malik again into grin-inducing virtuosic display of talent. Moffett’s incandescent chimes set the mood on “The Hard Way” as McBee’s repeating bass figure oscillates in concert with Malik’s more plangent brass. McBee’s solo improvisation on this track is perhaps his best of the session and he builds a beautiful array of patterns off the upper regions of his bridge. “In the Genes” takes things out in a galloping display of collective improvisation and features Malik at his most fiery and unrestrained. If you’ve never heard of Malik this disc is the perfect place to start when it comes to discovering his expansive talents. If his name is a familiar one then you’ve no doubt already added this disc to your must hear list.
(As an aside: please be sure to check out Nils Jacobson’s excellent interview with Malik if you haven’t already in the Interviews section (April 2000) of AAJ)
Tracks:Incalculable/ Minimal Blues/ Ago (go)/ Why Not?/ Nucleus/ First Valve Blues/ Ago (go)- alternate take/ The Hard Way/ Era/ In the Genes.