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Saxophonist Tony Malaby's New Quartet Brings Out His Rowdy Side


This is FRESH AIR. Since he moved to New York from Arizona 20 years ago, saxophonist Tony Malaby has recorded in varied settings from trio to nonet, and he's led other bands he hasn't documented. Now he's combined two old groups into a new one. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead explains.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Tony Malaby on soprano saxophone. Malaby has one trio with cello and another with tuba, and now he's merged them into a quartet called Tubacello. The fricative energy generated by squeezing both instruments into a small unit powers their new album, "Scorpion Eater," though cello and tuba don't always play together. Christopher Hoffman is on cello.


WHITEHEAD: Dan Peck on tuba. There's something gloriously rude, almost punky about it. It's orderly. For all the jostling, everyone hits his marks on time. But the rough timbres bring out Malady's rowdy side. His tenor saxophone on the tune "Buried" has all the jazzy grace of a Neil Young guitar solo with Crazy Horse. Malaby gets some good biofeedback from drummer John Hollenbeck.


WHITEHEAD: Tony Malaby's Tubacello sounds like no other band I know, with that tuba purring away like that. But truly new ideas are rare. Arthur Blythe was mixing cello and tuba in small groups when Malaby hit his teens, and there are echoes of Sam Rivers's sax and tuba combos and Tim Berne's long, propulsive sweets. Malaby knows all that music. The joy is in hearing his crew put it all together for themselves.


WHITEHEAD: On the album "Scorpion Eater," Tony Malaby uses tenor saxophone to thicken the texture, embedded, as he says, with tuba and cello. He rises above the thick foundation on soprano sax where he gets a sweetly robust sound. The higher horn changes the band's personality and gives you a glimpse of still more recombinant possibilities - other avenues they could explore. I'm already hoping we hear from this band again.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Scorpion Eater," the new album by Tony Malaby's quartet, Tubacello.

Tomorrow on the show, bluegrass musician and singer Norman Blake will join us and perform a few songs. If you're unfamiliar with his own albums, you may know him for having played in Johnny Cash's band, playing on Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" album and singing "You Are My Sunshine" on the soundtrack of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Myers, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman and Therese Madden. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.