Newark Star Ledger
LETTING GO: "Strange Unison" Mark Helias' Open Loose (Radio Legs Music)
Bassist Mark Helias' compositions for Open Loose, are, fittingly, loose and open. Joining the leader are two NYC/N.J. new jazz stalwarts: Jersey City tenor saxophone powerhouse Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey. The three listen intently, and work empathetically, at times edging into robust group improvisations, as on "Circling." "Blue Light Down the Line" is earthy and bluesy. Here, the warm-toned tenorman delivers an emotive story with soft, breathy notes, small evocative phrases and those more expansive and slippery. The bassist scores with simple, telling remarks via a fat, ringing tone, as Rainey taps quietly in accompaniment. After a bass solo intro, "Graveling" moves into a winsome groove. Here, Malaby ranges widely, from soft, pliant tones to brays and shouts. "CBJ" is a slow free work with impressive warmth. For CDs and downloads, visit markhelias.com.
Download this: "Blue Light Down the Line"
by Chris Jones
20 March 2008
One thing that never gets mentioned in relation to jazz trios is the sheer NERVE involved. Piano trios are textually easier to embrace, with all that chordal warmth fleshing out the bare bones. But with a sax, bass and drums you better be sure you know what you're doing. Bassist Helias, whose track record includes sessions with Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman, Mose Allison and Don Cherry (amongst hundreds of others) is, of course, well up to the job, as are the other two members of Open Loose: Tony Malaby (sax) and Tom Rainey (Drums). Strange Unison, their fifth album - is a fine demonstration of how to make such tricky music sound remarkably relaxed and easy.
At times the free form nature of the band's blowing allows Helias to fully explore every inch of his instrument, from the bridge to the shell and all points in between, very much as another recent pioneer of the low end, Dan Berglund of E.S.T, does. On Irrational the entire ensemble really get to grips with their kit. But at other times this is a tighter-than-you-think proposition. What may start as something seemingly extemporised will morph into an amazingly tight exploration, such as the Mingus-like passages at the end of Sonic Rights. But the trio's real favoured method of expression is their beloved NY hipster swing. Time and time again they retyurn to a high hat-driven bop template that oozes slinky street style as on John And Marks, Silent Stutter or CBJ. It's a warm, emotive sound that allows Malaby to have oodles of fun while sometimes seeming a little too cosy. But this is American jazz, not European, and Wibutee this is not. It still bursts with fearsome technique.
Strange Unison is, then, an accessible and finely executed piece of trio work. Not overly challenging, but still brave...
Mark Helias' Open Loose trio consists of himself on bass, Tom Rainey on drums and Tony Malaby on sax. And yes, what more can you ask for in jazz-land? All three musicians have an extraordinary track record and resume, and are hence much in demand, with Helias and Rainey figuring easily on more than 100 CDs, and Malaby on more than 50. And they are not just mere creative instrumentalists who fit in any musical environment, their level of artistry is high too, as was already demonstrated on the previous albums of the trio. "Strange Unison", falls perfectly within the line of expectations. This means that the musical quality is high throughout, with nice compositions, a great rhythmic drive and great soloing, free and unbound, yet all within the range of what can be called "accessible", full of emotional power and creative interplay. It also means that a little bit of the risk and the adventure are gone, but what the heck, who cares?
OPEN LOOSE [MARK HELIAS/TONY MALABY/TOM RAINEY] - Strange Unison (Radio Legs 013; USA) Featuring Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Mark Helias on double bass & compositions and Tom Rainey on drums. This is the fifth fine disc from Mark Helias' great trio, Open Loose. Except for their first disc that featured Ellery Eskelin on tenor, the personnel has pretty much remained the same. Over the past few years, whenever I've heard Mark Helias play live, he has knocked my out each time. Mark opens "Graveling" with his magical bass sound/approach. This is a most perfectly balanced trio with each member an integral part of the group sound. Tony's warm and enchanting tone is at the center of this tune with Mark's resonant bass and Tom's distinctive swirling drum style. "Blue Light Down the Line" is a fine laid-back and bluesy song with Tony's blustery, old-school tenor tone swaying slowly in the shadows. "Sonic Rights" is a hoot, a slightly twisted tune with an odd structure that is as difficult to explain as it is to play. The production here is superb with Mark's bass lusciously recorded. The opening bass intro on "CBJ" is just magnificent sonically speaking. When Tony's haunting tenor comes in, it is just too much, a big sound, a grand tone that is hard to deny. I love the way the trio jumps through dynamic hoops on "Illustrate" as they shift through a complex set of changes. Like wow! The bass and drums solo together near the end and are just incredible in the telepathic interplay. Master drummer, Tom Rainey, is another secret/special ingredient here, he constantly moves in mysterious ways, his playing has a unique, organic way of weaving his own percussive style within structure and style of each piece. Tom has a way of making the other members sound better, balancing the rhythm, melodic and composition perfectly. It seems to me that each disc by Open Loose just gets better, more focused and solid as a one force or statement. A most mature offering like expensive wine or fine cheese. Dig in, my friends, for a fine meal for ears, heart and soul. - BLG