Tony Malaby Cello Trio - Warblepeck (Songlines, 2008)
Saxophonist Tony Malaby--known for his ominously playful composition style--has teamed up with New York contemporary drummer John Hollenbeck and avant garde cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm to create Warblepeck, an album that is as experimental as it is fun.
Billed as the Tony Malaby Cello Trio, the group's virtuosity creeps up behind the obvious ingenuity and body slams you with sonic indulgence. With Lonberg-Holm's berimbau-hammering techniques on the cello strings and Hollenbeck's eerie children's polyrhythmic marimba, title track Warblepeck" sounds like a twisted, acid-induced stumble through a house of mirrors.
Malaby's flawless technique pierces through Lonberg-Holm's electronic arsenal of chirps and buzzes and a meandering marimba on Jackhat 1." Though impossible to say who's in the driver's seat, Malaby's command of the tenor saxophone's altissimo register is remarkably tight as he dances through the three-way improvisation. It may just sound like noise to the undiscerning ear, but rest assured there is method and beauty in the mayhem.
In breaking with what might seem abrasive, the album finds its first pop-driven groove in track three, Two Shadows." Part African drum circle, part searing lament, and part break-beat badness, the tune features some of the grittiest playing ever heard on a cello. Hollenbeck is a psychopath on the drums--crisp crashes and surprising transitions show the more aggressive side to this living legend.
If knowing unimaginable torment is required to play cello like Lonberg-Holm then I'll just leave it to the pros. Waiting Inside" and Anemone" are grueling laments featuring sparse bursts of color. Where Waiting Inside" features melodica, Anemone" gets a bit creepier with the use of brushes, kitchen appliances and glockenspiel. The album's four-note theme is quoted cleverly throughout as the songs shift moods like the many stages of depression, remaining in a subdued state.
Fly On The Wall" sounds like a sun-parched landscape disturbed by soft smatterings of dying wildlife. The sound being produced by Lonberg-Holm's many effects boxes, Malaby's percussive tonguing and Hollenbeck's small kitchen appliances builds intensely and impressively. Oh, and Hollenbeck is a bloodthirsty hyena on the kit.
What some songs lack in energy is made up for in Anemone Vamp" and Sky Church." The trio straight punks its listeners with raw, unadulterated brilliance. Sky Church" is also nothing short of epic--contrasting sections are quirky yet sensible--or maybe I've just been listening to this album too much.
Scrbble Boy" opens with a nasty hip-hop groove but slowly begins to stir from within with strange blurbs from Lonberg-Holm and Malaby--certainly more of a vamp than Anemone Vamp." But song titles have been irrelevant since the beginning of this review. Warblepeck"? Come on.
Whether or not you're adverse to art" music, the technique of all these musicians can't be underappreciated upon careful listening. The noise grows on you like a fungus there's no antibiotic for. Skip the doctor's appointment and just keep listening.
Download (don't steal): Sky Church" by the Tony Malaby Cello Trio.
Track listing: Warblepeck; Jackhat 1; Two Shadows; Waiting Inside; Fly on Wall/Remolino; Anemone; Anemone Vamp; Sky Church; Scrbble Boy; Jackhat 2; Chicotaso.
Personnel: Tony Malaby: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics; John Hollenbeck: melodica, marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone, drums.
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