On his new album, Incantation Suite, Tony Malaby chases a minimal, contemporary sound with a band of heavy weight jazz musicians including Ben Monder, Elvind Opsvik, and Nasheet Waits. Beginning with the slow introduction of each member of the ensemble, the Incantation Suite eventually introduces the band’s leader in the form of a high pitched sax squeal that fades into the mix out of nowhere. Certainly the centerpiece, Tony Malaby then leads the band through an extensive composition with mixed results. The album somewhat dances along the line of free and swung with highs and lows showcasing little dynamic-ism resulting in an album that lacks spice or groove, in what seems to be an uncharacteristically stale album release from Tony Malaby.
One of the issues with the album seems to be the lack of commitment and cohesiveness between the member of the ensemble. There are pieces of the album that seem to be chasing ambient minimalism with Ben Monder’s electronic playing and generally subdued nature, but this doesn’t seem to fit in with Malaby’s sound conception very well as he can be found digging in to heavy swing grooves. Rather than both of them deciding to value high energy swing or minimal ambiance, the group accomplishes this strange middle ground, making the album fall very flat.
Particularly on “Artifact” the issue of Tony Malaby and Ben Monder not communicating with each other causes significant issues in aesthetic. The piece begins with a lackadaisically executed song form of sorts eventually launching into Monder’s solo. Monder takes a laid-back approach lightly dancing atop the groove established by the rhythm section. Malaby is given the throne next. Here, we find the rhythm section slowly gaining momentum into more high-intensity swing playing (the use of double time comes up around the five minute mark). The issue with the song is that at the end of this solo, Monder slowly implicates electronic work lulling the song to a very awkward stop, which ruins the effect of the intensity of Malaby’s playing. Despite the fact that contrasting pairs of players can lead to fascinating results, these two members of the ensemble seem to nonsensically pull apart from each other.
The lack of commitment in sound aesthetic seems to effect the development of the pieces on the album as well; the climactic points of the work are simply not very exciting. For example, “Hive” spends too much time exploring vast expanses of empty space only giving the audience screeching excitement at the very end of the piece. Also, the same basic song development tactic is immediately used again in the next tune, “Procedure,” furthering lack of spark on the album.
Perhaps deeper listens will allude to more enjoyment, but I simply felt quite bored listening to this album. The album both doesn’t fully commit to a swing sound or a free sound resulting in a bland overall aesthetic with strange communicative choices between Tony Malaby and Ben Monder.