TONY MALABY (b. 1964)
Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Ben Monder, electric guitar; Eivind Opsvik, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums
1. Obambo 5:04
2. Lucedes 4:36
3. Alechinsky 10:06
4. Hidden 4:14
5. Boludos 2:51
6. Puppets 2:19
7. Sonoita 5:46
8. Loud Dove 12:07
9. Third Mystery 7:38
10. Musica Callada 3:07
These are strange times to be making music. Despite the recent change in political currents and a re-
examination of national identity, the bottom-line question persists, “Is anything really going to be different?”
In this context creative musicians go about the business of making a life and making music. The questions
to be reckoned with rise to the surface as always, initiating valiant attempts to squeeze out some creative
response to the inexorable truth; answers come with great difficulty and spawn new questions. It is a cycle of
thought that deposits one in a temporarily liberating space with a license to go for it . . . one more time.
Tony Malaby has been going for it on a regular basis since relocating to the New York area in 1995. Among
the many projects that he has initiated, this quartet is of particular interest. My perspective on his music is
unique: I have observed Tony’s compositional development over the past decade and had the chance to
produce two of his recordings, including this one. Over that period of time we have had occasional
discussions of formative processes and approaches to composition and improvisation.
This recording features the quartet Paloma Recio (Loud Dove) with Ben Monder, Eivind Opsvik, and
Nasheet Waits. The “sound” of this band was cultivated over a two-year period. “We just played in town
and never toured. I had many talks with Eivind and Ben about orchestrating the sound,” says Malaby. The
group, directed by Tony, explored its choices by trying contrasting ranges, oppositional rhythms, and varied
improvisational groupings. This work resulted in the evolution of a group vocabulary which, in turn,
generated these compositions.
Contrary to popular anti-intellectual mythology, musicians actually discuss “process” constantly as a way of
finding new paths of exploration. They are, in fact, a rather articulate subculture group and are constantly
examining the dialectics of artistic creation. The nexus of composition and improvisation has been the
subject of much conjecture in recent history, regardless of musical genre. This recording is one response to
that conjecture in its broad ranging sonic expression and flowing improvisational nature.
Tony Malaby was born on January 12, 1964, a first generation Mexican-American. As with many working-
class progeny, Malaby needed mentors outside the family to help develop his talent. Even with the modest
support of family members, a developing musician requires encouragement from other artists or teachers
involved in their discipline. Many musicians with whom I have spoken over the years were supported in
their endeavors by their parents up to the point where it was being considered a possible profession. At that
point the weather would often change, for the worse.
It was like that for Tony Malaby. “I was told that this would not fly . . . I made this happen. They (his
parents) were supportive but worried about survival. I got lucky . . . my middle-school music teacher, Jim
Nordgren, saw something right out of the gate. He saw and heard it and hooked me up with a scholarship.
He also took me to see Tower of Power, Earth, Wind & Fire, and various jazz concerts. I got lessons from a
jobbing cat (Jim Glasgow), a guy who played clarinet in the Tucson Symphony and saxophone with Mel
Tormé, Johnny Mathis (and anybody else who came through town). He had me study saxophone method
books, taught me tunes by ear, and gave me ear training exercises, scales and all the rudimentary stuff. My
high-school band director, Lou Rodriguez, hooked me up with a scholarship in high school and also with
my next teacher. In Tucson I was playing in saxophone quartets, Mexican bands, Latin bands . . . I started
gigging when I was fifteen years old. In high school I was exposed to the AACM. There was a dude named
Sonny who was a graphic artist with a storefront; he was a St. Louis guy who turned me on to AACM artists.
I saw Oliver Lake at the YMCA in Tucson, Douglas Ewart in a storefront gallery playing bamboo flutes. As
a kid, I thought this was so out, but I was seeing people making art. I heard a guy playing one note and he
was gone and just the vibration and energy . . . it was liberating. I saw the World Sax Quartet with Julius
Hemphill. It wasn’t just the music but the carriage of the musicians. They were strong and confident but
also sensitive and fearless. My band director brought Dexter Gordon to my high school to do a workshop.
He was playing in town at the Doubletree Inn and he got them to do a clinic at our high school with
(drummer) Eddie Gladden and (bassist) Rufus (Reid). I sat five feet away from him while he was playing
Body and Soul. I heard it and I checked out . . . .”
One can easily imagine the powerful effect these experiences had on a young Malaby. Clearly, every
musician has experienced some kind of transformational event where the imagined world of music presents
itself in the flesh and confirms the power of its otherness. The realization of how powerful music can be
from the receptor stance reaffirms its majesty from the output stance.
“Another important hookup was when Lou Rodriguez recommended me to the saxophone teacher at the
University of Arizona, Elizabeth Ervin. Her thing was not technical at all but, rather, explored how to play a
melody . . . Where is the line? . . . Where does it finish? . . . etc. She taught me to play dynamically and
worked on sound and vibrato. I was really lucky to have met these people, especially considering the
neighborhood I grew up in. Nobody around me got that. I was a freshman in high school working out of the
French Saxophone method books that were used in the university. So, in the end, I feel really lucky. I am
still in contact with many of these people.”
It is often said that music chooses musicians rather than the converse, as if cosmically ordained. Artists
purportedly are driven by energies beyond their control and ride that energy to artistic completion. There is
something to the idea of a drive and a force of desire, awe and fascination that leads one to the life but it is
the result of a series of crucial choices. I contend that musicians actively choose the life often in the face of
abject resistance from many quarters. For those who experience societal or familial opposition to their
decision, the choice is especially empowering. There is a saying that “it is easier to ride a horse in the
direction that it is going.” It seems that for many musicians, once they have committed to making music,
people emerge from the ether to mentor them. The unlikely mentor shows up and recognizes that the lights
are on, the curiosity has been activated and a talent can be nurtured. I have experienced these phenomena
in my own life and heard similar accounts from numerous colleagues over the years. It is not only a
question of finding a teacher, but rather, finding someone who acknowledges the legitimacy of one’s dream
or calling. Ultimately, it is an affirmation of one’s reality.
In discussing this recording Tony shared some ideas about the music. In putting the pieces together he was
trying to simplify the transmission of information to the musicians. He wished to elicit more input from the
players by writing graphic scores rather than totally note-specific ones. As he phrases it, Sonoita has a
“crooked and hanging” feeling, and that, “having a single line passing around and allowing the musicians to
orchestrate it, creates the impression that you are in a water-color painting . . . things are dripping . . . things
are smearing . . . colors blend and transition into and through one another . . . this happened on the first
take. With additional takes it became more codified and lost the visual impression, so we stayed with the
initial one.” For me, Sonoita is an evocative piece with a beautiful bass theme from which everything else
generates. It comprises a thoughtful juxtaposition of themes and silences, as well as a telling example of
thematic improvisation that develops in the latter stages of the piece.
The development of a usable compositional shorthand is vital for capturing the timeline of a musical idea.
The time it takes to write note-specific information is glacial compared to the duration of the actual sounds,
either in the outer world or the inner ear. In a sense, this shorthand becomes the graphical/informational
notation of the resultant piece. In our talks, Malaby mentioned a self-generative process in the morphology
of these pieces. “All the main themes were from recordings with William (Parker) and Nasheet—
improvisations, things that I stumbled upon, intervallic things . . . and then I just developed those things into
pieces.” The above could be interpreted as mining of the subconscious for ideas that occur in real time
without forethought—naked, natural, and without editing. These are musical ideas that result from the social
act of improvising with others. It seems a logical alternative to the archetype of the composer working in
isolation. Musicians, because of the social nature of the art, get to see/hear the results of their solo
imaginings in the short term. Unlike filmmakers and writers, for example, the half-life of the creative cycle
for a composer/improviser, from idea to action, is relatively immediate. Additionally, improvising musicians
can experiment with multiple strategies in a short period of time. In Malaby’s case this interactive process is
an essential area that animates the overall compositional effort. Alechinsky is an example of one of the
pieces built from a graphic score with the event-flow delineated by sonic elements left to the discretion of
the improvisers (for example, hammered chords by Monder and the detuned bass by Opsvik). Notice how
Waits keeps the forward flow of the piece modulating, with his appropriately active drum-set orchestration.
In this ensemble Malaby is working with very highly developed musicians who are known for their rhythmic
acuity. In the context of open playing their rhythmic sureness lends clarity to the temporal underpinnings of
non-articulated time playing. The rhythmic flow of the music springs from the composite gestural
expressions of the individuals. In Obambo one cannot help but notice the introductory lines in the guitar
and bass. It comprises an iso-rhythm reminiscent of the rub of triple and quartal rhythms in West African
music. This subtle thematic element inhabits the entire performance, including the open-form improvising
that occurs. The piece explores a group of rhythmic cells that phase against one another while the
saxophone states lyrically encoded messages on top. Tony mentioned to me that this session “highlights my
strengths with lyricism, it is not as rhythmically rigorous in the compositional area.” Not to be contrary, but
he achieves rhythmic complexity by allowing the musicians to utilize their collective talents in interpreting
the written music and verbal directions. Everyone understands the language in a detailed way; consequently,
less detail is needed in communicating the ideas endemic to the piece. This is really the nexus of organized
sound and improvisation. Lyricism is exemplified in the beautiful piece Lucedes. Opsvik phrases the
melody poetically with a sumptuous pizzicato sound. He exhibits a thick, harmonically rich tone teeming
with intention. This piece personifies the lyricism and poetry that Malaby maintains is an important part of
his self-expression. The band is catlike in its ability to delicately negotiate prescribed harmonic structures
with freely phrased metrics—a listening band.
Included in the program are three short improvisations, Hidden, Boludos, and Puppets. These pieces
represent the wholly improvised aspect of the project. Each one is concise, logical, and to the point. It
reflects on the amount of playing done by the band and the concurrence of ideas in their improvising. I
especially like how Puppets begins with muted pizz in the bass against the tenor melody. The interaction of
the two lines conjures up a highly active puppet master attempting to tame an animated puppet with a mind
of its own.
During the decade of the 1980s, when DAT (Digital Audio Tape) came into common use, it allowed bands
to record live sessions very quickly. This process minimized recording costs without sacrificing audio
quality, provided enough care was taken in setting up the live-to-two-track mix. One of the positive collateral
effects of this technological advance was that musicians could play for hours in the studio without concern
for the cost of two-inch analogue tape and the inevitable 15 or 30-minute time limit on a reel. This meant
that a band that was performing regularly could approximate the energy and abandon that often only
showed up at a live gig. There was the option of playing long sets as well. The Paloma Recio session
finished with a 23-minute performance of three linked pieces. Loud Dove is scored in a more exacting
manner than many of the tracks. The structure and execution is very much dependent on a flow chart and,
more important, the ingenuity of the players navigating some very interesting and variegated material. After
the short first theme Opsvik moves into a stirring arco bass improv that foreshadows some of the material to
come. Malaby plays a background made up of a twisted rubato version of the second theme, which follows
shortly thereafter. The second theme jumps off into an energetic collective improvisation which moves into
a trio with guitar lead. The bass line emerges organically and then we are off into yet another area, which
sets up the unison melody from tenor and guitar. This idea develops into a tenor solo over the developing
bass line. Relative to previous statements about process, this piece is an economical structuring of a wealth
of melodic and harmonic material into a self-generating suite that morphs effortlessly from one zone to
another. Loud Dove, in turn, moves organically into Third Mystery and then Musica Callada (by Federico
Mompou), the only non-Malaby piece on the recording.
I asked Tony if he had ever felt intimidated by the weight of the “music tradition.” He responded that he
has always considered past masters to be an inspiration and never felt a need to compare himself to them.
In fact, he felt liberated by the freedom of choice exhibited by all creative musicians. Liberation of thought
can be achieved by the admission that one has no answers for the profound questions of existence. In an
instant, one’s existence transforms from absolute philosophical crisis to freedom and, consequently, a
reason to explore and create. Paloma Recio is a beautifully realized document of Tony Malaby’s
exploration and creativity.
Mark Helias is a bass player and composer living in New York City.
Originally from Tucson, Arizona, saxophonist/composer Tony Malaby has been permanently based in
New York since 1995 and has been a member of many notable jazz groups, including Charlie Haden’s
Liberation Music Orchestra, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Mark Helias’s Open Loose, Fred
Hersch’s Trio + 2 and Walt Whitman project, and bands led by Mario Pavone, Bobby Previte, Tom
Varner, Mary Ehrlich, Angelica Sanchez, Mark Dresser, and Kenny Wheeler. Malaby leads several projects
of his own including Apparitions, The Tony Malaby Cello Trio, Tamarindo, and Paloma Recio.
A musician in the New York area for 25 years, Ben Monder has performed with a variety of artists,
including Jack McDuff, Marc Johnson, Lee Konitz, George Garzone, Tim Berne, and Kenny Wheeler. He
is a regular member of the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and the Paul Motian Octet, as well as many
other projects. He has conducted clinics and workshops around the world, and served on the faculty of the
New England Conservatory from 2002–2005. Monder continues to perform original music internationally
with his own quartet, trio, and in a duo project with vocalist Theo Bleckmann. He has appeared on more
than 100 CDs as a sideman, and has released four as a leader.
Born in 1973 in Oslo, Norway, bassist Eivind Opsvik started out playing the drums at a very early age. In
his teens he gradually switched to bass while also spending a lot of time experimenting with recording on a
4-track tape recorder. He moved to New York City in 1998 to be a part of its rich music scene. His main
focus is his own band, Overseas, his solo project, and Opsvik & Jennings but he is also currently a member
of a number of other New York bands such as Tone Collector, Kris Davis Quartet, Two Miles a Day,
David Binney’s Out of Airplanes with Bill Frisell, Rocket Engine, and Ben Gerstein Collective.
Drummer Nasheet Waits is a New York native. His interest in playing the drums was encouraged by his
father, the legendary percussionist Frederick Waits. Max Roach eventually hired him as a member of the
famed percussion ensemble M’BOOM. Most recently Waits has been a member of Andrew Hill’s various
bands, Jason Moran’s Bandwagon, Fred Hersch’s trio, and Tarbaby, and is the leader of Nasheet Waits
Equality. He has recorded and performed with a veritable who’s who in jazz, including Hamiet Bluiett,
Peter Brotzmann, Stanley Cowell, and Bunky Green.
Adobe. Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophones; Drew Gress, bass; Paul Motian, drums. Sunnyside
Alive in Brooklyn Volume 1. Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophones; Angelica Sanchez, Electric
Wurlitzer piano; Tom Rainey, drums. Sarama Records.
Alive in Brooklyn Volume 2. Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophones; Angelica Sanchez, Electric
Wurlitzer piano; Tom Rainey, drums. Sarama Records.
Apparitions. Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Rainey, drums; Michael Sarin, drums,
percussion; Drew Gress, acoustic bass, Songlines 1545.
Sabino. Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Marc Ducret, guitar; Michael Formanek, bass; Tom Rainey,
drums. Arabesque 153.
Tamarindo. Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; William Parker, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums. Clean Feed 099.
Warblepeck. Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello; John Hollenbeck, drums.
All compositions except Musica Callada published by Chubasco Music/SESAC. Music Callada published
Producer: Mark Helias
Engineer: Andy Taub
Mixed by Andy Taub at Brooklyn Recording Studios.
Digital mastering: Paul Zinman, SoundByte Productions, NYC
Recorded June 22 and 23, 2008 at Sear Studio in New York City.
Design: Bob Defrin Design, Inc., NYC
This recording was made possible by a grant from the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead
FOR NEW WORLD RECORDS:
Herman E. Krawitz, President; Lisa Kahlden, Vice-President; Paul M. Tai, Director of Artists and
Repertory; Mojisola Oké, Bookkeeper; Anthony DiGregorio, Production Associate.
ANTHOLOGY OF RECORDED MUSIC, INC., BOARD OF TRUSTEES:
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Rita Hauser; Lisa Kahlden; Herman E. Krawitz; Fred Lerdahl; Robert Marx; Arthur Moorhead; Elizabeth
Ostrow; Cynthia Parker; Larry Polansky; Don Roberts; Marilyn Shapiro; Patrick Smith; Paul M. Tai; Blair
Francis Goelet (1926–1998), Chairman
For a complete catalog, including liner notes, visit our Web site: www.newworldrecords.org.
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