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Tony Malaby Cello Trio - Warblepeck

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Artist: Tony Malaby Cello Trio

Album: Warblepeck

Label: Songlines

Review date: Jan. 6, 2009

On his latest disc as leader, saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby has brought a new twist to the sax-bass-drums trio formula. By recruiting experimental cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and percussionist-composer John Hollenbeck, Malaby has fashioned a group that captures his own hybrid vision, blending composition and improvisation in frameworks that cross cultures and genres without pretense.

Some of the structures are fairly wide open, such as the hypnotically grooving “Sky Church.” Its slowly swung underpinnings form a swampy path on which Lonberg-Holm and Malaby engage in beautifully syncopated post-romantic counterpoint, but the track seems strangely unfinished. By contrast, the title tune seethes with power, despite transparency, lurching along in fits and starts that only adds to its intrigue. When it’s moving, polyrhythms abound as Malaby lays down, repeats and expands a beguilingly scronky riff, Lonberg-Holm’s tapped cello as percussive as Hollenbeck’s kit. Similarly charged territory is traversed in the roiling “Two Shadows,” intensity and dynamics increasing as the rock-inflected textures reach boiling point under Hollenbeck’s driving rhythms.

The most sonically and structurally fascinating pieces on the disc are the two “Jackhat” tracks, where it is nearly impossible to tell what is composed until Malaby and Hollenbeck begin to play in staggered unison. There is a bit of Zappa referenced as the melody speeds up and slows down with rapid-fire time-signature shifts.

Whatever compositional diversions are here, it is the group sound that keeps my interest. On the beautifully meditative “Waiting Inside,” Hollenbeck’s melodies and Lonberg-Holm’s cello conjure visions of India as Malaby emotes with soft sinewy lines. “Warblepeck” finds Lonberg-Holm sounding as if he’s playing berimbau. Hollenbeck’s ghostly melodica echos Malaby’s sparse melodic musings on “Anemone” before a gorgeous passage of unison brings the piece to another phase.

The two “Jackhat” pieces give the disc more of a unified feel, and the wide timbral variety accents each composition’s unique attributes. There seem to be many avenues of exploration along which this trio could proceed, and I look forward to hearing the results.

By Marc Medwin

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