Finding your way in the jazz world is tricky these days. You are rewarded for playing music within the ‘jazz tradition’ but also penalized for not ‘having your own voice.’ Actually making it, has always been a sticky wicket. Think about artists like Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope who stuck too their individual visions, but lived (and died) in obscurity. Record executives, music buyers, and, regrettably, other musicians shunned even the high priest Thelonious Monk during his most fruitful years. Why then does saxophonist Tony Malaby present eight original compositions on his debut for Arabesque? Call it bravado, fortitude, spunk, or maybe just say he prefers to present an unambiguous snapshot of his personal jazz picture.
Malaby, born in 1964, has worked with Joey DeFrancesco, The Mingus Big Band, and Kenny Werner. But as he recalls it, working with the likes of Marty Ehrlich, Michael Formanek, and George Garzone opened up the possibilities and the structures of jazz music. Like the above-mentioned musicians, Malaby’s music has a very disciplined outside feel. His horn first crossed my radar screen when he teamed with trumpeter Dave Scott on the Nine Winds disc Quartet (1996). Their take on post-Ornette bebop was a refresher in the beauty that was (is) the lineage of bebop, hard bop, and post-bop music. Malaby premiered several of the tracks from Sabino on a 1993 disc Cosas (Nine Winds) along with bassist Michael Formanek.
For this disc he stays with a piano-less quartet but replaces the trumpet with French guitarist Marc Ducret, a former member of Tim Berne’s bands Big Satan and Caos Totale. In fact all three sidemen heard here are former associates of Berne. Drummer Tom Rainey played in Big Satan and Paraphrase and Formanek is a member of Bloodcount and Caos Totale. Malaby, like Berne, eschews the soft side of jazz for that irascible edge. Ducret plays perfect accessory to this music as he tends towards the angular. Even the circular-waltz “Ajo Comino” doesn’t ease the tension. But you can find beauty in this coarse affair; the title track has a kinder street touch. But sans piano leave the quartet with the constant job of locomotion throughout. Malaby relies heavily on Formanek for much of the structure as Rainey is constantly supplying accent. Connoisseurs of creative voices in jazz will appreciate Malaby’s singular voice.