Portugal's Clean Feed label is fast proving itself as one of the flagship supporters of modern jazz and improvised music around the world, with an international roster that includes some of the finest working musicians across America, Europe and beyond. Among its latest batch of impressive releases is Tamarindo, which captures the hardcore New York City virtuosity of saxophonist Tony Malaby leading a trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits.
The feeling one gets when listening closely to this powerful combo is the sense of the three players orbiting each other in interlocked, overlapping concentric circles, with the framework of each composition serving as a kind of center of gravity for each musician to spin off of and elaborate upon. It's apparent that Malaby, Parker and Waits are equals here, expanding on lessons learned under their various fellowships with gurus such as Andrew Hill, Paul Motian, Cecil Taylor, Charlie Haden and other masters.
Much of Tamarindo is characterized by the players' deep and intuitive grasp of melody, harmony and rhythm, such that each component becomes interchangeable as the musicians flip, toss and tumble ideas around to create a rolling momentum of sound. The threesome paints with a dense palette, where recognizable shards of melody are recast across a canvas that is at times impressionist, cubist and baroque.
Malaby stimulates the group with his compositional strategies, pungent tone and forceful emotion. His speech-like soprano work is particularly affecting, on "Mother's Love, where a wide variety of multiphonic trills, wails and howls are employed with incredible control. Notions of technique aside, the reedman's mysterious yet erudite messages emanate in expressive waves like poems spoken in a coded language.
Parker likewise demonstrates complete command of the bass, gracefully casting long shadows of spellbound frequencies across a wide spectrum of moods. His arco playing is especially intriguing, creating plaintive cries and crisp, prayerful enunciations with each stroke of the bow. Parker's commanding presence throughout the album is simply beyond hyperbole.
Waits' equally fascinating approach puts him in an elite class of contemporary drummers. "Floating Head is just one standout showcase for the methods he employs to combine the free, pulse-propelled fire of the '60s avant-garde with a more structured method of juggling multiple meters simultaneously. Taking cues derived from Indian tabla drumming and African polyrhythms, as well as his forebears in the jazz lineage, Waits emulates whole percussion ensembles with an ever-changing web of spontaneous accents, fluid textures and varied timbres that serve as the heartbeats of each song.
Together, the trio has the effect of conjuring spirits in some enigmatic voodoo ritual, their individual voices sparring and meshing in a heady swirl of engaging arabesques. With a highly detailed sense of orchestration, the compositions on Tamarindo are given life in a way that is perhaps musically complex, yet as natural as breathing. Malaby, Parker and Waits are in the vanguard of progressive jazz, and fans with open ears will be rewarded by giving Tamarindo a close listen.
Personnel: Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; William Parker: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.