Bassist Mark Helias runs a tight ship. Not in the sense of tricksy arrangements or impossible time signatures. It's more the laser sharp focus his accomplished Open Loose combo brings to the job in hand. And that job is breathing bustling and unpredictable life into the baker's dozen selections that constitute The Signal Maker, the unit's 7th release since 1998. Drummer Tom Rainey has been there since the inception, while saxophonist Tony Malaby is the new boy, having joined a year later. What's impressive is that they still find worthwhile things to say together, helped in no little regard by the ten varied frameworks which the bassist provides, designed to encourage open improvisation.
Malaby deploys a pliable muscularity that sees his lines edging into overblowing then pulling back and veering into other areas, be that lightly lyrical licks or muffled vocalization. He has a chameleon-like ability to sound like different players between or even within cuts, though there are actually two of him on the lilting "Brothers" where overdubs enable his soprano and tenor saxophones to intermingle on the head. Rainey forges his customary amalgam of rhythmic ingenuity and timbral smarts, and completes a highly simpatico pairing with the leader's deep growling bass.
Interspersed among Helias' charts, three group inventions, clocking in at over six minutes each, form not only the longest tracks on this studio session but also the most compelling. That's because after 16 years as a working band they possess the trust and shared knowledge to go beyond the norms of extemporization truly into the realms of spontaneous composition. Both Malaby and Rainey are masters of deconstruction: they sketch out collective ideas with the merest gestures which don't need to be filled out to succeed. They allow silence to ring, and undertake sudden switches of gear, as with the spirited outburst that emerges towards the close of "End Point ."
It proves that if they are looking for future options they could do a lot worse than dispense with the safety net of written parts entirely.
The Signal Maker; Ca Vous Gene; Largesse;Post Post; Vocalise; Soliloquy; End Point; Brothers; Fast Feast; Motoric; Temoine; You'll Never Guess; Initialize.
Mark Helias: bass; Tony Malaby: saxophone; Tom Rainey: drums.
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