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Marty Ehrlich and Traveler’s Tales: Malinke’s Dance

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Marty Ehrlich doesn’t always get the attention he deserves, in part because he’s neither a precocious young lion licking his chops, nor a venerated elder resting on his laurels. Still, this 45-year-old multi-instrumentalist has established himself as one of the important jazz composers and creative improvisers in New York. He’s also much in demand, leading several groups and playing with everyone from John Zorn and Myra Melford to George Russell and Muhal Richard Abrams.

Malinke’s Dance, which captures a 1999 live performance, is the first CD from Ehrlich’s Traveler’s Tales quartet in nearly seven years. Ehrlich, joined by fellow saxophonist Tony Malaby, acoustic bass guitarist Jerome Harris and drummer Bobby Previte, makes it worth the wait.

The group jumps out on “Rhymes,” a Lester Bowie-inspired theme with a sing-songy hook. Malaby makes the most of his solo, telling his musical story with all sorts of interesting plot twists. “The Cry of” explores a modal-based, Middle-Eastern vibe, with Previte turning his trap set into tuned hand drums and Ehrlich calling the faithful with his flute.

The cover tunes begin with a version of Julius Hemphill’s “Pigskin,” notable for its slip-sliding bass solo and what Charles Mingus used to call super bebop horn lines. Ehrlich is obviously fond of Bob Dylan’s music. He covered “Blind Willie McTell” last year and has a go at “Tears of Rage” this time around. It’s the most moving and soulful performance on the CD.

The title track, named for one of Ehrlich’s early creative mentors, finds Harris playing a hypnotic ostinato, punctuated by Previte’s driving drums and stop-time breaks. The contrasting alto and tenor horn lines, which Ehrlich refers to as the “Hemphillian effect,” spur the group to rock out, triggering one climax after another.

Perhaps the most surprising piece is “Bright Remembered,” a variation on the standard tune “I Remember You.” It’s unusual for Ehrlich to be playing standard changes like this, especially since he blows the first few choruses unaccompanied before the group joins in and takes it out. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait another seven years for the next collection of tales.