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Tony Malaby's Apparitions: Voladores

Troy Collins By

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New York-based tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby's seventh album as a leader, Voladores, is named after the visually stunning Mexican dance troupes he saw while growing up in Tucson, Arizona. Inspired by their celebratory rhythmic fervor, he employs a dynamic dual drummer-based quartet on this date, revisiting the heavily percussive line-up of his 2003 sophomore release, Apparitions (Songlines).

Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Tom Rainey return from the earlier session, with second drummer Michael Sarin replaced by percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck—the mercurial creative engine behind Malaby's exotic Warblepeck (Songlines, 2008). Serving as colorist rather than polyrhythmic timekeeper, Hollenbeck's kaleidoscopic accents augment Rainey's propulsive trap set ruminations and provide rich harmonic detail to Gress' melodious musings, expanding the group's palette considerably. The rhythm section's bustling, yet tonally harmonious undercurrent allows Malaby unprecedented freedom, similar to John Coltrane's later period work.

One of the most significant tenor saxophonists working today, Malaby's singular technique makes him one of the foremost improvisers of his generation. Where many of his peers mistake histrionics for intensity, Malaby values subtleties in volume, timbre and tone above dexterity and speed. Though his melodious phrasing often careens at a quicksilver pace, his nuanced attention to detail sets him apart from the masses of post-Coltrane acolytes. His supple, breathy embouchure lends "Lilas" a sublime air of introspection, while the roiling turbulence of his taut intervallic cadences amplifies the jagged contours of "Old Smokey."

Malaby reveals his plangent lyricism from the start, opening the session with a vibrant rendition of Ornette Coleman's previously unrecorded "Homogenous Emotions." Ripe with multiphonic soprano glissandos, sinewy arco drones and militaristic percussion retorts, the mysteriously ritualistic "East Bay" invokes the early experimental narratives of the AACM, establishing his aesthetic lineage with the sixties New Thing and seventies Loft Scene. "Dreamy Drunk" is similarly structured, a languid epic that ascends from bluesy ethereal discourse to impassioned, muscular collectivism.

The labyrinthine "Old Smokey" spotlights the rhythm section's uncanny listening skills and intuitive communal discourse as they navigate intricate meters and modulating tempos, spurred on by Malaby's increasingly frenetic tenor. Framed by Gress' buoyant runs and Rainey's acute sense of timing, Hollenbeck's effervescent accents provide abstruse syncopation to "Los Voladores," while his lilting melodica swells and clattering percussion underscore the loping funk vibe of the soprano-driven "Sour Diesel."

Three brief group improvisations highlight the quartet's congenial rapport, providing spare pointillist interludes that counterbalance the album's dense episodic detours. Another stellar addition to an impressively diverse and expanding discography, Voladores is further proof of Malaby's growing importance as an artist of note.


Track Listing: Homogeneous Emotions; Old Smokey; Dreamy Drunk; Can't Sleep; Sour Diesel; Los Voladores; Are You Sure?; YeSsssssss; Wake Up, Smell the Sumatra; East Bay; Lilas.

Personnel: Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophone; Drew Gress: acoustic bass; Tom Rainey: drums; John Hollenbeck: drums, percussion, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, melodica, small kitchen appliances.

Title: Voladores | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records


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