Arabesque Jazz AJ 0153

Tony Malaby sees himself as a roots man. Tenorist of choice for such New York "downtowners" as Mark Helias, Tom Varner and Marty Ehrlich, his first CD is an attempt to link freer music with his background as a Mexican American from Tucson, Ariz.

While it may not really conjure up "the desert voodoo" of his youth, SABINO is a respectable, heartfelt effort, showcasing a soloist who has obviously thought long and hard before entering the studio. Overall more Thompson Square than Tucson, the CD is still colored with a tincture of romanticism that sets it apart from other products of New York's Lower East Side.

One reason for this is Malaby's decision to build the quartet around a chordal instrument, and a guitar at that. Ducret's antecedents may be hard rockers and the sort of suburban sounds typified by Bill Frisell, but the blending of reed and strings on tunes such as "Remolino/Hamza" and "Mia" suggests a modern variation such 1960s duos as Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall or Stanley Turrentine and Kenny Burrell.

Hubbubs of notes and altissimo forays are more Malaby's style, yet on "Gate's Pass" a sort of warped ballad, complete with hand drumming, bowed bass and constant guitar strums, you can sense the physical space described. More tender still is "Love Dogs", written by his wife.

Elsewhere, as on "Ajo Comino" Malaby runs the changes at such Olympic speed that the tune appears shorter than it is. "Third Mystery" lives up to its title, resting as it does on a musette-like tone from the saxophonist and almost detuned guitar lines that sound more Middle Eastern than Old Western.

Bassist Formanek and drummer Rainey, best known for their collective taste stay pretty much out of the way of the main soloists and that perhaps is one of the album's weaknesses. Lacking any countervailing currents, Ducret accompanies Malaby more than challenges him. Moreover limiting the number of compositions by one-third may perhaps have lessened the feeling of familiarity that creeps into some of them.

SABINO does make you interested in what will come of the tenorist's horn next time around, though.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Ajo Comino 2. Sabino 3. Remolino/Hamza 4. Gate's Pass 5. Mia 6. Cosas 7. Third Mystery 8. Love Dogs

Personnel: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Marc Ducret (guitar); Michael Formanek (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)