MALABY/SANCHEZ/RAINEY

Alive in Brooklyn Vol. 2
Sarama Records No #

MARK HELIAS' OPEN LOOSE
Atomic Clock
Radio Legs RL 012

By Ken Waxman

What a difference one musician makes. Both these sessions were recorded two months apart in the same Brooklyn club by the same engineer and with two of three players on both discs. So why then does ATOMIC CLOCK tick with barely repressed animation, while ALIVE IN BROOKLYN seems to meander?

However facile the answer may seem, responsibility shouldn’t rest with Angelica Sanchez, who plays electric piano in place of Mark Helias’ bass, featured on the first disc. Sanchez, a fine pianist and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby’s spouse, obviously has a close bond with him. Drummer Tom Rainey, the last member of the trio has played with both husband and wife for years. In truth there’s also some sameness on ATOMIC CLOCK since, except for one track, where Open Loose is joined by Ellery Eskelin, its previous tenor player, there aren’t that many textures that three instruments can wring from a limited sound field.

What does separate the two dates is duration and conception. One hour long, the fully improvised ALIVE IN BROOKLYN finds the trio zigzagging through four over-long pieces, the briefest of which is slightly less than 12 minutes. ATOMIC CLOCK showcases 10 shorter numbers – all but one written by Helias – in less than 56 minutes with the lengthiest fewer than nine minutes. But there’s more to the disconnect than that.

While Open Loose is the long-time working group of Helias, the other trio appears to be conceived of as a snug respite from the road. Since Sanchez has toured with drummers Kevin Norton and Susie Ibarra, and Rainey works with everyone from altoist Tim Berne to trumpeter Herb Robertson, this local gig may be a little too homey.

Filled with fluttering split tones in the saxophonist’s case and broken octave accompaniment from the other two, the playing seems spread too thin, Disconnected and distracted tones are daubed onto the creations as with a butter knife, but they lack the sharp pointed pressure of cutting improvisation.

Phrasing with gritty flutters and split tones, Malaby’s sonic exposition seems almost endless here. Reed biting, hissing and growling his choked tones modulate from widely vibrated Trane-like distortions to thin squealing slurs. In response, Rainey often confines himself to rumbles, shuffles and rolls while popping and rubbing his drum tops. Sanchez’s chording may be organic, but it’s low-frequency as well. Slurred harmonies seep from the electric Wurlitzer along with cadenzas of impressionistic mini-melodies.

With quicker tempos, like some of Sonny Rollins’ 1960s trio work, the tunes on ATOMIC CLOCK lope along with the three players in polyphonic unison. More animated here, Malaby’s output bounds from slurred tugboat-like honks pulsated from the ocean floor up to split tone and pitch-sliding tremolo yelps. Rainey supplies rebounding ratamacues and press rolls – some apparently smacked by palms not drum sticks – while the bassist appears double-gaited. His staccato double stopping accelerates to flamenco-like strumming, while his arco interface is usually sul ponticello or col legno.

On his own, the tenor saxophonist’s tone references pre-modern Lester Young- with slurry tongue stops. Frequently too he slides into a groaning mid-register until it splinters into abrasive reed-shattering timbres and groans. “Modern Scag”, which adds Eskelin, is more of the same. No pitched tenor battle in the Lockjaw Davis-Johnny Griffin or even Al Cohn and Zoot Sims mould, both horn tones are breathy. Placid, and melodious, the two play side-by-side with Malaby’s distinctive pinched flattement confirming his identity.

Even “Plantini”, the climatic longest track doesn’t vary much from the formula. Moving at a canter, it features Malaby’s alto-pitched vamping lines in harmony with Helias’ walking bass. Eventually on top of rhythmic loops from Rainey, the saxman upticks to shredded spit tones and irregular punctuation, followed by a sweeping rubato line that squeaks from high pitches down to overblowing and mouth tremors.

Awash with more emotion than the other CD, ATOMIC CLOCK may attract listeners who follow any of the players. Still it would seem that more passion and color would improve both sessions.

Track Listing: Alive: 1. Ventriliquism 2 …the other ear 3. L’avenir 4. Pincherama

Personnel: Alive: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Angelica Sanchez (electric piano); Tom Rainey (drums)

Track Listing: Atomic: 1. Subway 2. Chavez 3. Cinematic 4. Momentum Interrupted 5. Modern Scag* 6. Atomic Clock 7. Plantini 8. What Up 9. Zerphyr 10. Many Nows

Personnel: Atomic: Tony Malaby and Ellery Eskelin* (tenor saxophones); Mark Helias (bass); Tom Rainey (drums and percussion)