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Over three decades, the protean saxophonist Tony Malaby has shown himself adept at playing all styles of jazz — inside, outside and everything in between, from an early stint with organist Joey DeFrancesco to Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and the Mingus Big Band to Fred Hersch’s Walt Whitman project to bands led by Paul Motian, Mark Helias and Mario Pavone. The Cave of Winds finds him leaning more toward the outer realm, with a version of Sabino — the sax-guitar-bass-drums format with which he made his debut as a leader in 2000. The origins of the new disc came from Malaby’s response to the COVID-19 lockdown, during which — like musicians the world over — he had no place to play, and came up with his own solution: jamming in an underpass of the New Jersey Turnpike near his house, with a rotating cast of characters.
The title The Cave of Winds comes specifically from the sound world Malaby and his pals discovered there — minus ambient traffic noise, such as the occasional passing siren. But Malaby attributes the aesthetic (and much of the writing) of this studio recording to those months of al fresco playing (documented in the five-volume “Turnpike Diaries”). So, yes, there’s the relatively contained freebop brawn of opener “Corinthian Leather,” the quirky little melody for the tenor/drums duet “Life Coach” (dedicated to Helias), and the succinct closer “Just Me, Just Me” (based on the chord changes of the standard “Just You, Just Me”).
“Scratch the Horse” (inspired by Native American melodies, and named for the Richard Harris movie A Man Called Horse) begins with big grunge guitar chords from Ben Monder and alludes to a rock backbeat throughout. But elsewhere, a free-flowing pulse of rhythms, tonalities and textures creates an ever expanding sonic space, like the spontaneous group improv “Recrudesence,” which grows from atmospheric split sax tones and drummer Tom Rainey’s spare cymbal hits to faster phrases and group textures ending with a bravura solo by bassist Michael Formanek. But the title track is the epic here — at 18:26, the longest on the disc — moving with deliberation through free and structured passages of turmoil and calm, ending with the natural fade of guitar fuzz. It’s a cave of sound that one could visit again and again. — Jon GarelickPhoto courtesy Pyroclastic Records