Time-Space Modulator
Barking Hoop BKH-008

Sunnyside Records SSC 1137

Evolving his improvising from the odd side of convention, while maintaining a healthy respect for tradition, soprano and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby could be the successor to Joe Lovano in terms of being an all-around, advanced inside player.

Like the older woodwind player, he teaches sax workshops, is on call as a sidemen for many bands as well as his own, interprets standards, jazz and otherwise, as well as writing his own material. Heck, with his girth and beard he could pass for Lovano’s kid brother.

Unlike the Cleveland-born Lovano however, Jersey City resident Malaby is initially from Tucson and draws on his southwestern background for color in his compositions. Often, on ADOBE as well, he keep his tenor tone light enough to almost be in alto range. Also, unlike Lovano, Malaby has still to make his definite statement on CD. Working with veteran drummer Paul Motian, who backed Bill Evan and Keith Jarrett, plus bassist and Tim Berne associate Drew Gress on this date, for instance, his deference means that a distinctive identity fails to appear. With the nine compositions, including his own, paramountly group music, he’s more distinctively adventurous as a sideman in percussionist Kevin Norton’s Bauhaus Quartet.

A fellow Jerseyite, Norton’s background ranges from New music percussion performances to gigs backing iconoclastic composer Anthony Braxton and Swing Era bassist Milt Hinton. Moving effectively among drum kit, miscellaneous percussion and vibraphone, Norton is also an incisive composer, which he shows on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR, as he has on a series of discs since the late 1990s. Boasting as impressive a line-up as Malaby’s solo CD, the band is filled out by bassist John Lindberg, co-founder of the String Trio of New York, and trumpeter Dave Ballou, who has recorded in pianist Satoko Fujii’s band and with French hornist Tom Varner.

Overall you get the feeling that the eight compositions on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR are connected by a definite vision — Norton’s. In contrast ADOBE, which mixes Cole Porter tunes and Ornette Coleman lines plus Malaby’s pieces new and old, comes across as a professionally played collection of songs. Sameness in time and tempo haunts the disc as well.

Surely his own man — he works with impressionistic pianist Fred Hersch as well as more outside players, Gress’s backing ranges from plucked, near-country runs to powerful walking. He holds things together most of the time. “No Brainer”, for instance, a jaunty, smeary tune written by Malaby’s wife Angelica Sanchez, features darker chromatic picking, plus cross sticking rattles and rebounds from Motian. It also highlights one of the saxman’s better performances as he flutter tongues and irregularly vibrates half tones and partials.

Gress’s low-key andante solo is also one of the highlights of “Dorotea La Cautiva”, an Argentinean ballad. Applying torque to his strings, Gress works up and down them, creating his own harmony as he goes along. With Motian behind him on brushes, Malaby smoothly negotiates the bends in the tune as well, sometimes hitting high, but not shrill notes, creating a tone that’s like bittersweet chocolate, honeyed without being sickly sweet.

The there’s “Gone”, appropriately the final track, where echoing spiccato bowing from Gress and double sticking in odd patterns from Motian encourages Malaby —playing soprano — to pour out speedy arched cries and end with triple-tongued, aviary fluttering.

Other than that, even though the reedist sometimes trills obbligatos and blows more intensely from time to time, one track on ADOBE seems pretty much like the next.

However, almost from the first note he sounds on TIME-SPACE MODULATOR Malaby sounds on top of things. Filled with smeary, sweaty altissimo squeaks, screeching trills and sideslipping explorations, “Mother Tongue” provides a more complete aural picture of Malaby. Perhaps it’s because of Norton’s stronger compositional skills or a combination of other factors at that time — this is improvised music after all. Lindberg is as impressive a bassist as Gress, strumming out a faultless beat on this jagged, New Thing-oriented tune and other pieces. Norton contributes press rolls, runs and cymbal clatters and Ballou alternate plunger action with ceiling-glancing notes.

This high standard is maintained throughout until “Moonstruck”, the final, more-than-13-minute piece that demonstrates what can be done with four committed musicians working together. Combining tougher bass and drum beats and contrapuntal horn parts, the reedist and brassman soon break through polyphonically and head up into the highest registers. Ballou’s wiggling and hocketing slurs turn to swaggering blasts, while Malaby’s smeary overblowing takes on the yelping of a disoriented pooch. Ballou keeps up his chromatic cherry picking, always hitting the proper note with the proper brassy flourish and maintaining his purity of tone no matter what. Perfect counterpoint comes from Malaby’s chesty tenor tones, that sometimes operate with bop-style construction. Triple stopping strums from the lowest point of the bass plus press rolls and nerve beats from the drums signal the piece’s final variation, letting the horns reprise the theme, then ending with a faint saxophone whistle.

Other tunes accent Norton’s chiming bells mixed with Lindberg strumming below the bridge of his bass, Malaby producing a rubato clarinet-like tone from his soprano, plus trumpet and vibe close harmony that sounds like the work on Eric Dolphy’s OUT TO LUNCH LP.

The band is able to play a non-greasy blues on “Didkovsky”, most notable for the work of Ballou and Lindberg. Over counterpoint that includes snorted overblowing from the saxophonist, the brassman pingpongs from clear to muted tones, that references Joe Wilder at one point and Donald Ayler at another, but never misses a beat. Neither does the bassist, as he slaps his strings to such an extent that it seems as if they’re being rammed with a drumstick. Later Lindberg downshifts to percussive taps on the instrument’s ribs and belly. With Norton bearing down on his kit, the tune reaches a climax with a walking bass line and swirling, squealing timbres from both horn men.

Finally there’s “Milt’s Forward Looking Tradition”, which honors both the late bassist Hinton with whom Norton played, and theorist/composer George Russell, with whom the Swing Era bassist recorded some of his challenging work. The steady bass and drum pulse complemented by horn obbligatos soon gives way to flighty sketched lines from Ballou, mated with some restrained impressionism from Malaby. Moving between rolling drum paradiddles and shimmering vibe accompaniment, Norton manages to capture both the primitive and progressive sides of Hinton’s ever-swinging and ever-evolving playing.

TIME-SPACE MODULATOR is another major work by Norton and his musicians, including Malaby. Since ADOBOE was recorded more than a year before the Norton session, it’s likely that the tenor man’s playing and conception is steadily improving. But Malaby still lacks a major recorded statement.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Adobe: 1. Humpty Dumpty 2. Maine 3. Abobe Blues 4. Dorotea La Cautiva 5. No Brainer 6. Mia 7. What is This Thing called Love 8. Cosas 9. Gone

Personnel: Adobe: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Drew Gress (bass); Paul Motian (drums)

Track Listing: Modulator: 1. Mother Tongue 2. Seoul Soul 3. Didkovsky 4. Milt’s Forward Looking Tradition 5. Microbig 6. Atie Aife 7. Difficulty 8. Moonstruck

Personnel: Modulator: Dave Ballou (trumpet and cornet);Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); John Lindberg (bass); Kevin Norton (vibraphone, drums and percussion)