Laying low for some time, tenor saxman Malaby split his efforts between sideman gigs (Joey DeFrancesco, the Mingus Big Band, Ed Schuller's Shulldogs, Marty Ehrlich and Mark Helias, among others) and working up his sound concept in the hinterlands (Tucson, Ariz.).
A confident, insightful player, Malaby has a strong command of his horn and a sure tone but also digs the wailing, frayed excursions practiced by those in the Albert Ayler tradition. For Sabino, his debut recording, Malaby works out his own middle ground: the quartet tempers the sounds of post-Ayler improvisation and integrates it into a more deliberate setting. Tight interplay and terse melodicism coexist with the burning sounds of free improvisation on Sabino and it results in flowing, expansive and seamless music.
As a front-line partner, Malaby did well in choosing guitarist Marc Ducret. Sharp and delicate, Ducret often guides the music along with gentle chords or lithe pizzicato runs recessed into the rhythm section's rumbling wall of sound. But when the music calls for it, he can play with an acerbic pop and crackle. Michael Formanek, as ever, is a huge presence. His bass playing slips effortlessly between driving lines and abstract fields of sound. He and Tom Rainey give Ducret and Malaby plenty of room to twist and turn, while at the same time giving each tune shape and character. This isn't a recording that will blow away free-jazz devotees or fans of more chord-progression-oriented fare, but for those always open to new middle ground, it's a thrilling listen.