Novela by Tony Malaby is a real treat. It tantalizes the senses with its complex yet accessible horn arrangements, burns with a restrained energy that propels the soloists and builds so imperceptibly that by time we are half way into the first piece, Floating Head," and the piano's slightly disjointed but flowing phrases come to the fore, we are ready for a slight breather. The bass clarinet phrases with the horn and drum hits below the soloing trumpet is fantasticit is easy to be happily lost in the melodies, counter melodies, individual and ensemble improvisations.
The arrangement of the second tune, Floral and Herbaceous," with its slow moving melody is a fraught affair, collapsing in the middle into just a solitary voice. Then, slowly, evocatively, the tune rises again from its own ashes. The playing and the arrangements are inspired and inspiring, covering the range from bouts of frenetic dissonance to soaring climaxes.
The material comes from Malaby's discography, recorded in different group settings over the years. This arrangements on Novela were done by pianist Kris Davis and she is co-credited as such on the album. The group is an octet, with Malaby on soprano and tenor saxophones, Michael Attias on alto, Andrew Hadro on baritone, Joachim Badenhorst playing bass clarinet, Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Ben Gerstein playing trombone, Kris Davis on piano and John Hollenbeck playing drums.
The extensive wind and brass section gives a lot of textures and colors to paint with and the result is a fascinating album. The ideas are big, the details are never lost, and the arrangements never overwhelm the tunes, leaving much space for group and individual improvisation.