Tony Malaby’s Sabino: The Cave of Winds (Pyroclastic)
A review of the tenor saxophonist’s album inspired by live performances under the New Jersey Turnpike
When COVID-19 quarantines put the kibosh on live performances, Tony Malaby took to the streets. To be more specific, the tenor saxophonist started hosting weekly sessions underneath a turnpike overpass near his New Jersey home during the summer of 2020, with a trio and myriad friends. These gatherings inspired The Cave of Winds in name and spirit, although the album captures a studio session with a different set of longtime friends. It also revamps the lineup of Malaby’s 2000 debut Sabino—bassist (Michael Formanek), drums (Tom Rainey) and guitar (Ben Monder, taking the spot originally held by Marc Ducret)—and straddles the line between structure and free blowing.
The two tracks that bookend the album both use standard changes as a jumping-off point. “Corinthian Leather” is loosely based on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ’n You,” which can be felt if not exactly heard as Malaby and Monder weave around the driving rhythm section. “Just Me, Just Me,” a contrafact of the standard “Just You, Just Me,” finds Malaby (on soprano) and Monder digging into an updated version of free bop.
In between those two, the range gets deeper. Monder’s heavy distortion introduces “Slice the Horse,” which rivals most prog bands on the visceral level. The title track presents an 18-minute journey in which Malaby (on tenor and a bit more soprano) unleashes some extensive phrases, capping them off with vibrato. The track reaches a climax early and the whole band takes it down for a tranquil, sustained final quarter. Malaby has always been skilled at alternating elongated melodies and intense raspy wails. His bandmates all lock in perfectly, whether they’re playing a piece or creating spontaneously, as they do in “Recrudescence.”