Tony Malaby’s Sabino

The Cave of Winds
Pyroclastic Records PR 18

Otok

Cabrioles célébrales et accidents psychotiques

LFDS Records LFDS 016

Balancing the textures from saxophone, guitar, bass and drums are these well-focused and rhythmically sophisticated quartet sessions from the US and France. Evolving with the same high quality, the chief difference is that Sabino almost exclusively features compositions by leader tenor and soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby, while the French Otok contingent, all members of Le Fondeur de Son artistic collective, work in the field of pure improvisation.

A collection of mature players on the New York scene, all of whom lead their own groups and are in several others, Sabino is also bassist Michael Formanek, drummer Tom Rainey and guitarist Ben Monder. Emphasizing both horns, Malaby’s expositions dart between hairy-chested tough tenor runs and squealing soprano saxophone split tones, matched with widened or spindly guitar strums that sometimes touch on power chording. Moving up front when needed, the bassist and drummer concentrate on a bonding pulse. Preceding Malaby’s pressurized flattement and strained flutter tonguing on “Scratch the Horse” for instance, Monder pushes his effects pedal riffs to buzzing Hendrix-like riffs, seconded by the bassist, and swirls around the saxist with resounding frails as the reed part fragments with doits and distended cries. Whether the pieces evolve with crying altissimo timbres or narrowed lower pitched harmonies from Malaby, the album’s interface is flexible enough so that Monder has enough space for a leading or answering motifs that range from arching buzzes to stop-time frails. Rainey applies ruffs and rebounds at appropriate, but not overbearing junctures, while Formanek usually lays back, displaying his ingenuity most noticeably during a vibrating solo that wraps up “Recrudescence.” The band’s combined skills are expressed at their greatest length during the almost 18½-minute title track. Beginning andante as Malaby outlines the theme with simple fluttering slides and low-pitched scoops backed by carefully modulated double bass strokes, and tock-tock drumming, grainy soprano squeaks and rangy guitar lines inflate and extend the exposition. Adding tenor sax slurs and cymbal splatters, energetic guitar lines snake around the duo as the narrative evolves and starts splintering. Darkened split tones and animalistic cries join with guitar fuzztones to further stretch the piece, which climaxes with all operating at the top of range, most prominently with percussion rat tat tats and gurgling spetrofluctuation from Malaby.

Sporting a name that could be an island, or swelling in different languages, Otok’s strategy is hard and heavy from the get go. Consisting of tenor saxophonist Hamza Touré, bassist Yoram Rosilio, guitarist Thomas Zielinksi and drummer Julien Catherine, the quartet members have experience playing in numerous Gallic configurations from bug bands to small groups. Lead off, “Kromagnon” sets the mood with double counterpoint from a walking bass line and pressurized saxophone squeals as woody rim shots and banjo-like guitar clanks add to the intensity. Finally a crescendo of vibrating triple tonguing from the saxist, spiccato double bass strokes and Rock-like guitar twangs move the piece to a stop-time conclusion. While approximate one-minute interludes for each player to display his unaccompanied talent are also here, the raison d’étre for the disc is to show off creative cooperation among the four. “Otok’ ends the session with a frisky dance-like tune whose currents seem to drift between the Balkans and South America, and is advanced by Metallic guitar strums and drum pops; while “Afraid!!!” is as foot-taping as it is frenetic, as sul tasto bass stokes and drum rattles meet reed overblowing and guitar vamps for an off-metered finale.

At the same time Otok demonstrates that to complete a unique presentation band members can, without compromising either trope, combine elements of melody and Metal — as they do on the extended “Elena's Circle”. Sliding forward at a lento pace, Touré’s low-pitched smears and Rosilio’s mellow bowing offers both sides of the acoustic exposition, while Zielinksi’s knob-twisting metallic clangs add a layer of tension. As double bass thumps steady the connective ostinato, hard reed vamps and quickened guitar vibrations color the narrative. Final resolution comes with a downshift to sax-emphasized lyrical ending. Dulcet tone also characterize the finale of “La Serenade de Nelson”. But this resolution arrives only after the exposition is stated with a sneaky cartoon villain-like motif. Dissected woody string stops and pealing guitar flanges intensify the musical portrait, until a martial drum roll frightens the musical baddie into cooperative reed bites.

Using all the textures and techniques available to exploratory musicians, the American and French quartets have produced eminently listenable and sophisticated music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Cave: 1. Corinthian Leather 2. Recrudescence 3. Scratch the Horse 4. Insect Ward 5. The Cave of Winds 6. Life Coach (for Helias) 7. Just Me, Just Me

Personnel: Cave: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Ben Monder (guitar); Michael Formanek (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)

Track Listing: Cabrioles: 1. Kromagnon 2. Kabessita 3. Interlude 1 4. Elena's Circle -5. Interlude 2 6. La Serenade de Nelson 7. Interlude 3 8. Afraid!!! 9. Interlude 4 10. Otok

Personnel: Cabrioles: Hamza Touré (tenor saxophone); Thomas Zielinksi (guitar); Yoram Rosilio (bass) and Julien Catherine (drums)