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Tony Malaby: Adobe

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Coming up on a decade in the New York City jazz scene, saxophonist Tony Malaby has made himself into a valuable resource. Mario Pavone, Paul Motian, Fred Hersch and Sakoto Fujii, among others, look to Malaby as a keen addition to their latest projects. The native Arizonan may keep a full schedule, but he still finds time to record on his own now and then. On the strength of his trio recording, Adobe, it’s probably time to start thinking of him as a leader, too.

Malaby, on tenor and soprano, absolutely shines on this session, which he’s load-ed with ballads and Ornette Coleman-style blues numbers-even opening with Coleman’s “Humpty Dumpty.” Malaby’s improvisations fold Coleman’s evasive playfulness into a thoroughly lucid and always pointed logic. He appends his lines with only the slightest vibrato and uses restraint and pacing to great effect. Adobe includes some haunting themes, such as Malaby’s own “Maine” and “Mia” or Felix Luna’s “Dorotea la Cautiva” (a high point), and his sensitive readings of the melodies alone are worth hearing. Only a single standard, “What Is This Thing Called Love,” taken at a three-quarter sprint, threatens to break the spell.

Drummer Motian and bassist Drew Gress play a supportive role throughout, but not a passive one. Gress hardly ever walks his bass, instead sketching the bare outlines of Malaby’s music with some double duty on secondary melodies. Motian, spare as ever, directs with a few taps on the cymbal. This is a balanced group perfectly matched with the material.