By Troy Collins
Tony Malaby has become one of the most distinctive saxophonists on the international scene since emerging from his hometown of Tucson, Arizona nearly two decades ago. Although Malaby currently leads a handful of instrumentally unique small combos – including Novela, Tamarindo, and Tubacello – it is with Paloma Recio (Loud Dove) that the first generation Mexican-American delves deepest into his heritage, abstracting Iberian-tinged melodies with the support of guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Incantations is Paloma Recio’s sophomore effort, following its self-titled 2009 debut for New World Records. The titular four-part suite is a wholly democratic ensemble effort. “Glass” opens the proceedings tentatively, with bowed bass and scintillating guitar harmonics setting the stage for the leader’s sinuous soprano, which leads the ensemble on a collective expedition from tranquility to turmoil. The angular swinger “Artifact” follows, its infectiously jagged cadence recalling none other than Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle, Tinkle.” “Hive” builds incrementally in intensity from unaccompanied soprano musings to a full-band improvisation, but it is the closer, “Procedure,” that is the album’s conceptual and climactic centerpiece. In just under a third of an hour, the epic finale follows an inexorable arc; Opsvik establishes the theme alone, with the rest of the band joining gradually. Ebbing and flowing from hushed rhythm section interplay to a cathartic drum and tenor duet, the piece concludes with Malaby and Monder at their most unrestrained.
Malaby is a broadly expressive soloist with an ear for structural dynamics; he accentuates idiosyncratic phrases with virtuosic embouchure control, expanding conventional tonality with a texturally rich harmonic palette. Often dovetailing with Malaby’s thorny cadences, Monder makes a perfect foil; whether eliciting shimmering cascades, kaleidoscopic arpeggios or searing sustain, his understated attack and variable tone meshes seamlessly with the saxophonist’s breathy ruminations. Opsvik and Waits demonstrate their congenial rapport with dynamic versatility at every turn, bringing Malaby’s sketches to life with rhythmic invention and colorful accents.
A visceral exploration of the basic foundations of melody, harmony, and rhythm, Incantations is another compelling recording in the growing discography of one of today’s preeminent saxophonists.