Band mates as well as soul mates, pianist Angelica Sanchez and saxophonist Tony Malaby form the crux of Brooklyn-based quintet convened on Life Between. The couple’s deep musical compatibility is in evidence on a handful of earlier sessions in the company of drummer Tom Rainey. This one expands the circle to include guitarist Marc Ducret and bassist Drew Gress. All three sidemen have strong collaborative ties to saxophonist Tim Berne, and as such the date carries more than a passing resemblance to the older saxophonist’s mathematically-minded style and sound. Tight harmonic turns and porous melodic cells abound in the compositions. There’s a consistent slipperiness to Sanchez’s writing that keeps spontaneity intact. Even in the overtly prescribed passages, impetus for fertile blowing isn’t far from the surface.
Ducret runs with the liberties, his skronk-pocked solo on the opening “514” presenting an early example. He sounds downright Frisellian on the subsequent ballad “Federioco,” squeezing luminous chordal droplets from his strings that fall on Sanchez’s staircase progressions. Malaby’s grainy phrasing is similarly suited to the switchbacks and detours. He switches from flinty honk-inflected barks on the opener to blowsy purrs on its neighbor, bringing to mind Paul Motian’s ECM trio with Joe Lovano. “Name Dreamer” reveals another voice through a wheezing spate of precision overblowing. “Blue & Damson” further accentuates his command of register dynamics, bouncing from face-puckering whinnies to foghorn multiphonics. Gress is a bit recessed early on, but builds more of a bottom-end prominence on pieces like the darkly textured “Black Helicopters.” Ducret also dials his presence up on the piece in a baring of fanged harmonics presumably designed to leave the senses on edge.
Ensemble lubricity receives a boost from Sanchez’s frequent pivots to Wurlitzer electric. Her rippling chords and fills complement Ducret’s amplification, hat-tipping in the direction of fusion but stopping short of winging it fully into that particular ring, and thusly avoiding associative excesses. The collective energies of the piece “SF,” for instance, have an aura of Miles’ Cellar Door as aural antecedent. Bassist Mark Dresser endorses the group through an ardent set of liner notes that fall victim to some of the tropes usually reserved for critics in the field (food and family metaphors abound, along with the unfortunate repetition of the superlative “world class”). His sentiments are sincere and more than backed by the music Sanchez and her colleagues devised for the date.