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Tony Malaby Trio

New York-Based Jazz Musicians Play Original Works at Killian Hall

By Jeremy Baskin

staff writer

The Tony Malaby Trio

Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone

Angelica Sanchez, piano

George Schuller, drums

Killian Hall

April 20

On Friday, a trio of New York jazz musicians visited MIT, giving a jazz workshop in the afternoon and a concert at Killian Hall at night. The recital hall, dressed up with some atmospheric lighting, proved to be a superbly intimate setting for the trio to connect with the audience.

The concert featured compositions by Angelica Sanchez, the group’s pianist, and George Schuller, the drummer, as well as other pieces that were unannounced.

Sanchez’s “Fresh Hell” opened up the concert, loosening up the audience with its upbeat, contemporary feel. Right from the very first note out of his instrument, tenor saxophonist and the group’s leader Tony Malaby showed off with amazing ease the range of his instrument.

What he may have lacked in beauty of tone, he surely made up with an incredible technical control of the instrument. From pianissimo to fortissimo and everything in between, Malaby danced around his instrument, with the raspy and the sweet notes coming out beautifully.

One interesting quirk with Malaby’s playing involved his body movements. His knee shook in rhythm with his vibrato at some times; other times, the saxophone itself heaved up and down with the music. The result was an image of total involvement in his music making, an involvement comparable to that of the giants of the saxophone.

A Spanish ballad, “Dorotea,” followed, giving Schuller a chance to convey to the audience the more melodic aspects of his instrument. This piece was set apart from the others on the program because of its Iberian feel. Again, Malaby’s playing covered a wide array of styles, and he made the transition between these moods with an admirable smoothness. Any doubts about the saxophonist’s lyrical abilities were quashed by his performance in “Dorotea.”

Schuller’s “Mosh Pit” closed the first set. As the title suggests, this piece starts with a symphony of percussion clattering all done by Schuller that evokes both the disorder and excitement of a mosh pit. The other instruments joined in to play repeated rhythmic patterns, and the piece slowly grew to become a wild orgy, a Rite of Spring for jazz, if such comparisons should be made.

Sanchez’s piano playing was marked by its fluidity throughout the concert. Since the group had no bass player, her role was versatile -- providing bass, harmony, and the occasional solo. All of these tasks she executed with tremendous ease and emotional involvement. Two wonderful things come to mind when seeing her play with Malaby and Schuller. The first is a refreshing thought that the male-dominated jazz world does have some bright female members with nowhere to go but up.

The second epiphany was that the usually dominating Steinway in Killian seems to have found its match; when coupled with saxophones and drums, as opposed to the usual violins, violas, and cellos, it reassures the MIT audience that, yes, this piano does have an upper limit on dynamic capabilities.

After the break, the group played another Schuller composition, which showed that the drummer/composer possesses a wide variety of musical colors on his palette.

Schuller is the son of Gunther Schuller, a composer, conductor, French horn player, and educator. Although George Schuller comes from a distinguished musical family, he does not need to invoke his namesake to achieve recognition. In other words, his composing and drum playing are more than enough reasons to call him an outstanding musician.

The concert ended with “Weirdo,” another composition by Sanchez. All three members brought out their musical hearts for this piece, as individual solos ranged from the tender and sublime to the adventurous and exhilarating. Yet mentioning individual solos alone does not do justice to the group, which so often proved its ability to rise, as a unit, from a gentle beginning to a carnal climax, and then back down to nothingness.