Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker

Musicians who thrive in the realm of free improvisation need to be flexible, stopping and rerouting their path as a performance calls for it. While the possibility exists to extend and expand during solos, the most attentive players can make a point succinctly as well. The name Open Loose doesn’t describe Mark Helias’ music as much as epitomize the mindset his trio brings to it. In his notes for The Signal Maker, the bassist says, “The most interesting developments come when we get really comfortable with the music and we start altering it in a creative way.” This level of ease-which only comes when a band has the chance to grow, as this group has-dovetails with Helias’ compositions on this album.

Open Loose includes drummer Tom Rainey and tenor/soprano saxophonist Tony Malaby. The only tracks in this baker’s dozen that go beyond the six-minute mark are the three group compositions. The remainder, all penned by Helias, are surprisingly accessible. “Largesse” feels like a ballad, with a languid tenor line that is answered with spare commentary from bass and drums. Right when it feels like it could open up into an extended solo it ends, yet it still feels complete.

Emotions vary throughout the set. In “Motoric” Rainey plays on top of the trio, sounding aggressive but not bombastic and inspiring some braying tenor vibrato. Malaby plays “Vocalise” with a more romantic use of vibrato, but after a short, buoyant bass solo, Helias shifts the amorous mood toward something more upbeat. True to form, nothing goes smoothly, in the best possible way.

Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.