Saxophonist Tony Malaby’s unlikely pandemic practice space: the New Jersey Turnpike

For more than 25 years, Tony Malaby has been one of the most riveting saxophonists in jazz — a dauntless explorer who’s also at home with direct emotional expression. His ability to toggle between traditional and experimental modes has been a trademark since he released an auspicious debut album, Sabino, at the turn of the century.

Since then, Malaby has distinguished himself in any number of musical situations that call for an inside-out proficiency, from Paul Motian‘s Electric Bebop Band to Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra to Mark Helias’ aptly named trio Open Loose. His body of work as a leader traces a similar line, whether he’s working with three pieces (as in Adobe, featuring Motian and bassist Drew Gress) or as many as nine (on Novela, arranged by pianist Kris Davis).

Not quite two years ago, on March 3, 2020, Malaby joined two regular collaborators, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Tom Rainey, for a gig in Greenwich Village. Recorded for release as Live at 55 Barthis freely improvised performance highlights a shared commitment to spontaneity and an equally strong investment in listening as an active pursuit. By Malaby’s reckoning, it was also where he picked up the coronavirus, becoming one of the earliest COVID cases in his musical peer group.


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