When Tony Malaby blows into his horn, it doesn’t sound only like a saxophone—it sounds like a bamboo flute or an english horn, or even a growling tiger. As pianist Angelica Sanchez puts it, “[He] has an uncanny ability to make the tenor sax sound like a whole jungle,” (Jazz Times, June 2013). Armed with this endlessly adaptable sound, Malaby has forged his place as one of the most in-demand saxophonists in New York, playing with everyone from pianist Fred Hersch to bassist William Parker. Malaby leads several of his own acclaimed bands of various shapes and sizes, from his “Tamarindo” trio with Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits, to his large-canvas “Novela” group. On Saturday, Malaby brings his so-called “Reading Band” to The Jazz Gallery, featuring long-time partners Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Drew Gress on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums. For Malaby, the Reading Band is way to tap into a more intuitive and emotional way of playing by working with compositions that none of the performers have seen before. Needless to say, this set is going to be full of surprises, but as a little primer for what could go down on Saturday, here are some choice Tony Malaby cuts that showcase both his aesthetic and sonic breadth.
“Miss B.” and “Lee’s Dream” — Fred Hersch Trio + 2
While pianist Fred Hersch has a reputation for unparalleled lyricism, he can mix it up too—especially when an improviser like Malaby is in the ring. Check out Malaby’s scurrying solo on “Miss B.” that brings the upbeat song to a fever pitch, then skip ahead a few tracks to the Lee Konitz tribute “Lee’s Dream” and hear Malaby gracefully thread a solo through Hersch’s rich harmonies.
“I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow” — John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Even amidst the loudest musical ruckus, Malaby always makes his presence felt. In this arrangement of the folk tune “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow” with drummer John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble, Malaby soars above the burbling background figures whilst going toe-to-toe with saxophonist Dan Willis in a tenor battle of volcanic proportions. Just wait until the outro.
Tony Malaby’s Novela at IBEAM
Malaby sure knows how to raise the roof off a place. In this video, his Novella band makes quite the joyful noise, sending the audience on a supersonic thrill ride.
Tony Malaby’s Tamarindo
But Malaby’s not all about breadth and bluster. In performances like this one, you can hear the underlying airiness to his sound, a sound both fragile and intimate. In a stripped down setting like this, the purposeful and deliberate qualities of his playing become apparent. Like his old boss, the drummer Paul Motian, Malaby has an uncanny sense of knowing just which note is right for any moment particular moment.
“Dorotea La Cautiva” — Tony Malaby’s Adobe Trio
Speaking of Paul Motian, this performance features Malaby with the aforementioned esteemed drummer, as well as Saturday’s bassist Drew Gress. Playing a ballad like this one without a major comping instrument like piano or guitar is very risky move. With a limited harmonic and textural palette, a slow and deliberate piece like this one can get old pretty fast. Malaby is always at his best, though, when he performs without a net, and he turns this potential dirge into a breathtaking flight of fancy.
Malaby and his Reading Band will certainly be performing without a net on Saturday. Come out to The Jazz Gallery to discover what other sounds Malaby has up his sleeve.
Tony Malaby’s Reading Band, featuring Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Drew Gress on bass, and Billy Drummond on drums, performs on Saturday, October 19th, at The Jazz Gallery. Sets are at 9 and 10:30 p.m., $20 general admission and $10 for Members. Purchase tickets here.