Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nick Fraser / Kris Davis / Tony Malaby - Zoning (Astral Spirits, 2019)

There's not a lot of information available about this album, but that it okay, because in this case the music really does speak for itself. The core band of Nick Fraser on drums, Kris Davis on piano and Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano saxophone is making their second album, this time with help from friends Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone and Lina Allemano on trumpet performing on half of the tracks. This was a very impressive inside / outside jazz album that has well thought out themes some of which evolve episodically, and very high quality improvising. The first track, “Zoning” has Malaby and Laubrock probing the open space with their saxophones, gradually developing a duet that adds trumpet for a three way improvisation, with the piano and drums rounding out the sound. Their performance sounds free yet focused with the piano and drums trading pithy ideas, with the horns returning to develop a dark and stormy soundscape. The collective improvisation swells to a raucous and wild tempest that is very exciting to hear, with roiling piano and drums and surging horns, before quieting for the conclusion. “Wells Tower” also retains the extra horns, for lighter toned passages supported by softer percussion and percussive piano chords. The music derives its tension from threatening to pull in different directions at once, and this elasticity keeps things fresh and inviting. There's a pinched toned soprano saxophone solo curling ably through the piano and drums, invoking sort of a “catch me if you can” sense of impish fun, before turning serious as the remaining horns enter and the music pushes into uncharted territory with excellent trumpet and saxophone interplay and fine light and dark shade from the piano and percussion. “Charismatics” is for the core trio, fast and seemingly free right out of the gate, it develops a wonderfully thrilling opening, setting the dynamic core for the performance, with Malaby's fearless saxophone playing met by Davis's use of the entire keyboard and Fraser's deft percussion. But is when their individual talents come together in the service of the performance itself that things really take off. While there are some solo cells or sections (including a vert impressive abstract Malaby concoction) but the improvisation leaves room for each musician to listen closely and build off of what their colleague is playing to very good effect. This was an excellent album, perhaps one of the finest that the endlessly questing label Astral Spirits label has yet produced. Containing some of the best musicians currently practicing and allowing them the space to just stretch out and go for it has produced a gem. Zoning - amazon.com

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