Tony Malaby and His Horn Bring the Clean Feed Festival’s New York Shows to a Close
It was late night on Sunday, May 9, when Tony Malaby and his Apparitions Quartet were cooking through a set of songs filled with high-energy improvisation, complex polyrhythms and beautiful melodies. Backed by drummers Tom Rainey and Satoshi Takeishi as well as bassist Sean Conly, Malaby played saxophone with a bristling intensity that matched the two-drummer backline, rocking back and forth with his eyes closed as he did. The sound filled the cozy basement of Cornelia Street Café as fans took in the adventurous music with a nodding approval.
The percussion-heavy band found a nice sweet spot between the angular playing of Rainey and the more impressionistic pastiche of Takeishi, who focused on hand percussion. It’s often dicey putting two drummers in the same band, but the two worked well together for the most part, conjuring a strong tribal vibe at times and then stepping back when the music went quiet and melodic. The two only ran afoul when they were too in sync, playing in unison from time to time instead of conversationally. At their best, you could hear the two batting rhythmic ideas back and fourth, elaborating on different elements of the groove while moving the music forward together. As a linchpin between the two, bassist Conly seldom wandered from the pulse of the music while providing a bit of harmonic context for the reedist.
Malaby was in his element from the get-go. The set opened with a light dancing improvisation by the band, with him on soprano sax. While this combo is different than the one that appears on the recent CD ‘Valadores’ (Rainey being the only other member to appear on the CD), it went seamlessly from tune to tune. The music here was inspired by the folkloric valadores that Malaby saw as a kid growing up in Tucson, Ariz. — here, five Mexican folk musicians play and dance and then climb a 100-foot pole before four return to the ground, unwinding the ropes that hold them as they go. The fifth person remains at the top of the pole playing. The set opener gave the piece a fluttering feel one imagines comes when they watch these musical daredevils come down the pole. When Malaby switched to tenor for the meat of the set, his tone took on big Coltrane-like feel that that was both beautiful and brawny.
Put together by the Portuguese label Clean Feed, this was the final of six sets that made up the fifth annual Clean Feed Festival New York May 7-9, before it moves on to Chicago May 14-15 for sets featuring Chicago locals including Jeb Bishop, Keefe Jackson and Jason Roebke, as well as some New Yorkers and Portuguese players. The Chicago Culture Center and The Hideout will both feature sets each night. Go here for set times and lineups. There will also be Clean Feed Festivals in Utrecht, Netherlands and Ljubjana, Slovenia this year, as well.
The Lisbon-based label started out in 2001 as an outlet for some creative but lesser known Portuguese players like the Red Trio and Tetterapadequ (who both played in New York) as well as some slightly more established international ones like New Yorkers Malaby, Erik Friedlander, Marty Ehrlich and many others. Not much has changed, but now the label has more than 180 stylishly designed titles under its belt.
On a par with such American avant-garde jazz labels as Aum Fidelity, Pi Recordings, Cryptogramophone, Tzadik and few others, Clean Feed has quickly become a beacon of improvisational jazz. The label has regularly been recognized in recently years for its work by such in-the-know organizations as Allaboutjazz.com and the Jazz Journalist Association, where it is currently one of five labels nominated for “label of the year” at its 2010 Jazz Awards.
Last Sunday, the label had a small table set up in the back that featured works by Malaby and many others who played the festival. After the set, people milled around the table, energized by the music and looking for a souvenir to bring home. Standing outside afterward, even Malaby himself was revved up, talking excitedly as if he was still at his horn on stage.