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Raphe Malik, a master trumpeter who has established his versatility in a variety of improv contexts, turns inward on his new solo record, Speak Easy. Solo trumpet records are a rarity in jazz, and a major challenge to the performer. Malik rises to the occasion and delivers 47 minutes of persuasive music.
The general impression here is a very strong sense of linearity. Malik's performances here are a bit difficult to resolve in terms of composition vs. improvisation, but that's true of most of his work. He intersperses understated themes with a lot of pure improv that reflects an active mind at work. Drawing from swing, blues, and free references, he sails, stutters, and whispers his way along a self-organizing path. Malik is an intelligent player, so his ideas arise rapidly, spontaneously, and often without much notice. But he has the maturity to cultivate them until the point of fruition. Take "Odds Out," the third cut on Speak Easy, for example. The main theme is a sauntering three-note motif, which he interweaves among transpositions and connecting phrases that have a profoundly rhythmic feel. While Malik may not cling to the beat, it's clear that his internal metronome operates here, and it doesn't take much imagination to get a sense that there's an invisible drummer accompanying him. What's most striking is the way he leads or follows the beat, most often engaging in a light swing. That's an element of the tradition that many free improv players have essentially abandoned, but Raphe Malik clings to it like an old friend on this piece.
The overall tone of Speak Easy is moderate. While he has the capability to explore the extreme emotional range available through his instrument, as well as the virtuosity to execute tonal and microtonal leaps of any magnitude, Malik prefers the middle road. Subtlety rules here. For listeners curious about Malik in his undiluted form, this is a wonderful introduction. And anyone who's willing to involve themselves in the music will find the entire disc mesmerizing. But don't even think about using this as background music (or incendiary material), because that's not what it's all about.