The New York City Jazz Record review by Stuart Broomer

Tony Malaby’s Novela (CF 232)
You can usually trust a Tony Malaby CD to deliver a fountain of creative and energized improvising. That force remains, even expands here, but the nonet called Novela – four reeds, trumpet, trombone and tuba, piano and drums – marks a significant departure for Malaby, transforming compositions previously heard as blowing vehicles for trios and quartets into full-fledged orchestral works. Pianist Kris Davis is an essential partner, orchestrating and conducting compositions from the arc of Malaby’s career. The earliest work here, “Cosas”, first appeared on an eponymous 1993 CD that Malaby co-led with  trombonist Joey Sellers and it’s been turning up at regular intervals in small groups ever since. Malaby’s pieces transfer handily to the new settings, but the result is as collaborative as any trio. Davis emerges as an orchestrator of tremendous creativity, amplifying the harmonic nuances of Malaby’s pieces, enriching their textures at every turn and multiplying their rhythmic possibilities.Working in the traditions of Ellington, Mingus, Sun Ra and Carla Bley, Malaby and Davis seem acutely aware of the quality of individual voices in the ensemble, using the distinctive timbres of trumpeter Ralph Alessi and altoist Michael Attias (who gets the theme of “Cosas”, in effect changing the character of Malaby’s attachment to it) to develop the melodic content further. “Mother’s Love” (one of three compositions from 2007’s Tamarindo) is a work of continuous orchestral evolution, seamlessly weaving composition, improvisation and, likely, conduction as the methodological lines keep blurring. Ultimately, the music sounds like it was conceived for this large ensemble, a group with a breadth of resource that can suggest early incarnations of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra or Sun Ra’s Arkestra, readily bridging a high modernist lyricism and an explosive, collectivist spontaneity. Whether they’re reading or making it up as they go along, this is a major musical event, the orchestral debut of the year.

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