Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophone; Tom Rainey, drums; Michael Sarin, drums & percussion; Drew Gress, acoustic bass
New York saxophonist Tony Malaby's Mexican-American background and experience playing both inside and outside bring a subtly different flavor to his second record as leader. Apparitions is even more open and exploratory than his debut, Sabino(which made the NY Times' and Philadelphia City Paper's top ten jazz lists for 2000). The process began a couple of years ago when he performed several times with two drummers and loved it: "It's just the most comfortable couch, or like taking a warm bath, just being surrounded by that sound and falling into it." He soon knew who the band was going be; having played together a lot in various other combinations, they already had a shared vocabulary to build on. They worked with Tony's structural concepts more than with written-out compositions: "I decided to try to create platforms for my favorite 'zones' that we'd developed or would hit on. So for example, a multi-layered zone where the four of us are each playing in our own pulse or dimension in time, or a very transparent zone where it's cymbals/mallets/brushes and I'm playing flute-like and Drew's playing arco. And the question is: how am I going to get this into a composition, how am I going to structure it?"
Throughout Apparitions, freedom and form are dual aspects of the music's evolution. Cutting-edge jazz typically blurs the distinction between composition and improvisation, but seldom are the results so intuitive yet coherent — sinuous group elaborations of uncanny dexterity, the often dense textures retaining a striking clarity. The whole record feels like one extended suite exploring forms and moods on some knife-edge between passion and abstraction. "A big part of the aesthetic is that the composition is hidden, and the improv is equally hidden... Tom, Mike and Drew are masters at creating this effect, because they can absorb the material very quickly and are then able to abstract it and deconstruct it, they create another layer over the written material, even as they perform it... On 'Talpa' and 'Jersey Merge' there's a structure that we're blowing off of, chord changes — 'Jersey Merge' is based on the harmonic structure of 'Bye Bye Blackbird' — and I knew that I'd get a different type of music from the rest of the record if I incorporated a couple of tunes with form and structure. The way they mask that there is a form there is brilliant, it creates a seamlessness that never constricts me as an improviser."
Timbral innovation is another area of investigation, "trying to create the illusion that I'm not playing saxophone, that I'm playing marimba or other percussion-like instruments... trying to make the ensemble sound bigger than it really is." Evoking cultural and natural space is also an important consideration: "I use a lot of imagery or visualization, and at the time of making Apparitions I was dealing a lot with my heritage, so a lot of imagery of adobe, weavings, chilis, cilantro, spices, the ancient pyramids of Mexico... these were on my mind. And there's a primitiveness in the music — 'Tula' at times sounds like I'm blowing into a conch shell... Something I've always carried with me from the southwest, moving to New York, is a sense of space. It's very easy for me to create density and energy but I'm working on spacing that out, pacing myself, and thinking of 'arcs' differently, I don't want things to always start soft, crescendo to a peak, and come down at the end."