Tony Malaby speaks from the heart when describing the camaraderie that fuels the magic of his Under The Turnpike Trio. Those who follow the saxophonist’s music probably know the story of how he, drummer Billy Mintz and bassist John Hébert turned a dodgy Jersey City side street into a haven for creativity during Covid’s initial months. Above, protecting them from rain and wind, the New Jersey Turnpike. Surrounding them, run-off drains, homeless encampments, and oodles of urban debris. Unlikely spot, but it boasted a homey “any port in a storm” vibe that they grew to adore – and it had good sound. This lemons/lemonade situation gave the three improvisers time to hone their ensemble rapport. As evidenced at an August performance at NYC’s Downtown Music Gallery, that rapport is currently deep, deep, deep (see the above video). Their approach to freedom is fueled by imaginations that consider all sound valuable, and a dedication to discovery that bars foregone conclusions. Abstraction is their mother tongue, but at the DMG, they bubbled up some bent blues, and found ways to turn boogaloo grooves into cloud dances. Their brand of swing finds them moving anywhere and everywhere they choose, balancing turbulence with eloquence while prioritizing a graceful flow. When they get to Providence’s Tea In Sahara (69 Governor Street) tomorrow night, the intimacy of the room will bolster the power of the music, no question. The tiny Moroccan café has been making a home for adventurous jazz improvisers during the past year. Ensembles led by guitarist Jeff Platz have helped attract intrepid listeners to the city’s East Side on a regular basis. Platz’s Modern Sounds series unites a cohort that includes drummers Max Goldman, Matt Crane, and Eric Rosenthal, bassists Kit Demos, Nate McBride, and Andrew Dow, saxophonists Brendan Carniaux and Phillip Greenlief, trumpeter Ellwood Epps, and other fellow travelers from Brooklyn and Boston. It’s a scene on the rise, and it gains more ground every time a new group sets up shop for a gig. Shout out to Mohamed Sefiani, the TIS owner who’s been providing the real estate for all this experimentation. The Malaby hit is a big deal for those who find the kinetics of freebop to be a provocative siren song with endless rewards.
Hébert, Mintz, Malaby at Downtown Music Gallery in August