Nick Fraser/Kris Davis/Tony Malaby

Astral Spirits MF216/AS 112

By Ken Waxman

Somewhat of a misnomer, since Toronto drummer Nick Fraser, Canadian-in-Brooklyn pianist Kris Davis and New York saxophonist Tony Malaby are joined by German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and Toronto/Berlin trumpeter Lina Allemano on half of the six tracks. Still, this Toronto-recorded session is effective with both configurations.

As a trio, especially on Davis’ composition “Events”, the exposition is pulled out to a logical point with the pianist’s rapid key clipping and Malaby’s intense growling action climaxing together, until dark piano voicing coupled with a tender reed line transform the track into a near ballad. Meanwhile in quintet form the tunes modulate from ambulatory to atonal. The former is exposed on Fraser’s “Wells Tower”, when balanced and individual split tones from Laubrock on tenor and Malaby on soprano saxophones bounce to a neatly harmonized intensity as the trumpeter creates a brassy affirmation to the narrative. Free sounds get are featured most prominently on “Sketch 46”, another Fraser line. Here intermittent keyboard patterning plus strumming and stopped internal piano strings form the backdrop to crying corkscrew sequences and no-key pressure blowing from the reeds as Allemano’s twitters and doodles course among the reed layers, with the track firmly anchored and completed by chiming keyboard runs.

Without missing the rhythms of a double bass, the compositions and performances of this international crew can still be compared and acclaimed favorably with any similarly constituted group, anywhere.

-for MusiscWorks Issue #135