Wires & Moss
Blending through-composition and group improvisation is an increasingly common but still stubbornly tricky enterprise, like managing the aesthetics of a kite in flight. The composer labors to concoct this skeletal contraption, starts running with it, then at some point releases it to the muse and mercy of her ensemble’s collective flights of fancy, tugging down or releasing more string as the situation warrants.
Angelica Sanchez guides this process in a manner that produces a compelling wealth of textures and angles, often arrayed with uncommon lyrical beauty. It helps that drummer Tom Rainey and saxophonist-husband Tony Malaby have been playing her open-ended material (with Sanchez herself on piano) for nearly a decade, and that the remaining quintet members Drew Gress (bass) and Marc Ducret (guitar) have been around since 2008. That familiarity enables Sanchez to exploit the versatile virtues of the band—the way both Malaby and Ducret can drone, flit, lilt, bleat or skronk in unity or counterpoint, for example.
Perhaps more important, the ensemble understands the ways Sanchez wants her kites flown. There is patience and intimacy in their ongoing discovery of the song’s next phase, and their interplay has an appealing blend of finesse, aggression and repose. On “Soaring Piasa,” they establish some brief, intriguing motifs but then suddenly coalesce into a gorgeous melody mostly consisting of a repetitious, ascending riff at about the seven-minute mark, riding it for two minutes before Malaby starts fracturing into the next element of an opus that runs 11:28. That glittering interlude—a memorable centerpiece in any context—is all the more magnificent for its unexpected arrival and ephemeral length in the grand scheme of the composition.
Last year, Sanchez played solo renditions of her songs on regular and toy piano for another bewitching Clean Feed release, appropriately titled A Little House. By contrast—to pulverize another analogy about Sanchez’s marvelous mélange of charts and improv—the songs on Wires & Moss have the spacious interior of rooms in a mansion connected by a winding vestibule. The quintet seems to be exploring it for the first time, yet they know the way by heart.