Jim Black’s approach to his drums could be compared to a lit match being dropped on a pile of dry papers. The whole kit ignites, shooting sparks and flames in all directions. But instead of engulfing its surroundings, Black’s attack always supports and even elevates his fellow musicians. Following last year’s piano-trio outing The Constant, the drummer assembled Malamute as a more electric outing, with 13 tracks, all six minutes and under, that straddle the line between frenzy and tranquility.
The group came to be as a way for Black to play with Icelandic tenor saxophonist Óskar Guđjónsson. Elias Stemeseder, who played acoustic piano on The Constant, returns on electric keyboards. Chris Tordini, better known as an upright bassist, switches to electric bass for the session. Throughout the album, an alluring contrast is created where Black’s propulsive drumming and Stemeseder’s wild keys create a rollicking bed for Guđjónsson’s relaxed, warm tenor tone. With Tordini holding it all together, the proceedings often sound like Stan Getz dropping by a Soft Machine session.
Black’s writing covers a wide swath of musical colors as well, exploiting his bandmates’ incongruities for the greater good. Melodies often morph and reshape within a four-minute framework. “Just Turned Two” starts with a keyboard blast that evokes shortwave radio static, followed by Tordini frantically strumming a bass part that threatens to turn the song into droning pop. “Sought After” almost sounds like postmodern noir, with double-stop basslines and Guđjónsson’s slinky tone finally building up to a raucous climax. But as on most of the tracks, it’s Black and Stemeseder who collapse, while the tenor burns slowly.