Three years ago, saxophonist Tony Malaby hit the creative jackpot with his trio, Tamarindo. The group’s debut album capped many critics’ lists and served as a persuasive reminder of his talent for without-a-net blowing settings. Bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits gave as good as they got, so the natural challenge became how to improve on an already winsome aggregate. Malaby’s response proves equal to his original fount of inspiration — invite trumpet doyen Wadada Leo Smith to the fold.
Though New York-based for the past 15 years, Malaby hails originally from Tucson and Southwestern culture is still very much a part of his musical paint box. It’s immediately manifest in the colorful mosaic that serves as cover image for Tamarindo Live, though the trio-turned-quartet’s music draws less overtly on those sources, canting closer to the free jazz side of Malaby’s improvisational repertoire. All four men are aces in the idiom and that marrow-deep prowess plays out beautifully across the album’s four loquacious cuts, recorded live at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.
“Buoyant Boy” has the immediate flavor of a Don Cherry piece circa the cornetist’s Complete Communion phase. Smith trades in textured stentorian shrieks and metallic streaks, measuring them against segments of fine-spun melody. Malaby defers until the second half, his soprano eventually worrying and massaging a sing-song riff in Lacy-like fashion. Here and elsewhere, Parker often treats his bass like a second percussion instrument, thrumming out pulsing rhythmic patterns that are sometimes more distinctly felt than cleanly delineated, but waste nothing in terms of propulsive power. Waits builds frothing cadences and thundering tattoos, locking on an aggressive military march in the second half of “Death Rattle” after a beginning marked by relative restraint.
An invasive murkiness obfuscates some of the detail during the high intensity passages, as much a product of the live setting as the players’ shared brio. The louder stretches are a bit monochromatic, but the trio still demonstrates a keen collective command of dynamics, particularly on the slow-building ballad “Hibiscus” and the finely-drawn finale “Jack the Hat with Coda,” which opens with Malaby purring solo microtonal permutations and ends on a note of ambiguity — suggesting the possibility of more in the can from the quartet’s memorable Jazz Gallery stand.