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Tony Malaby and Firebath Ignite the Jazz Gallery

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I had the great pleasure of seeing Tony Malaby perform at The Jazz Gallery. Malaby moved to Boston a couple of years ago to take up a teaching position at Berklee. Although he continues to perform in New York City, I had not seen him live since he moved. On this occasion, his band presented the "Firebath" suite based around three simple melodies. Malaby has performed this suite for the past several months with different ensembles including an 11-piece mini orchestra featuring three bass players and two drummers. The music seems to take on the character of the musicians (based on YouTube videos). Malaby is rightfully one of the most celebrated saxophonists in free jazz and improvised music. But he is also a noteworthy composer and a sound architect.

At the Jazz Gallery, Malaby was accompanied by stellar (mostly) New York-based musicians including Angelica Sanchez on piano, Dave Ballou on Trumpet, Ben Monder on Guitar, Mark Helias on bass, and Allan Mednard on drums. With the possible exception of Mednard, all of these musicians have a lengthy history of working with Malaby. The term "Firebath" is an Old English term meaning a bath in intense heat and deep cleansing effect like a sauna (Wiktionary). Music described as a "firebath" signify a fiery, intense, and transformative journey. This is a perfectly apt description for the performance. Sanchez, Mallaby, and Ballou brought the heat in their solos. Monder uses a lot of electronic effects and is more of a sonic explorer, which was a perfect complement. Both Helias and Mednard stoked the flames, but also added nuance and shape to the sound. The music wasn't all fire and brimstone, there were extended melodic passages, periods of greater intensity followed by stretches where the music was spare. Canadian drummer Nick Fraser employed the term "improvising at the edges of composition" in an interview. That was a fitting description of the Firebath experience. It was an exhilarating 60-minute set that seemed to pass by in an instant.
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