I think that if I were a bassist who wrote his own tunes, I’d want Tony Malaby in my band. The guy’s equipped—he can read down anything and improvise his tail off, besides. Add that he’s unusually intense, and you have the perfect horn player for über-bassist Mark Helias’ Open Loose. As befits the trio’s name (drummer Tom Rainey is the third member; tenorist Ellery Eskelin guests on one cut), Helias writes sophisticated if relatively slight sketches that serve primarily as platforms for collective improvisation.
While the group engages in its share of high-energy free jazz play, this music maintains an almost airy feel. The inchoate wash of sound that characterizes much jazz-based free improv is absent. In its place is a more finely detailed music that lacks nothing in terms of emotional directness. Drummer Rainey is every bit as well matched to Helias’ concept as Malaby. He generates energy, but just as important, he generates ideas. As for Helias, few bassists possess his chops and melodic ingenuity. The rather distant sound quality is a flaw (the session was recorded live in a Brooklyn club). Still, the heightened group dynamic makes this album easy to recommend.