MALIJA (Lockheart/Hoiby/Noble) – Instinct – Edition Records EDN1096 – 49:29 (9/8/17) ****½;
Outstanding trio jazz with a chamber music discipline and compositional reach.
(Mark Lockheart: saxophones/ Jasper Hoiby: double bass/ Liam Noble: piano)
The players comprising the trio Malija—Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble and Jasper Hoiby—are major figures on the U.K. jazz scene. Readers of these pages are likely to remember the accolades bestowed on the Jasper Hoiby’s 2016 release “Fellow Creatures.” The release here of the drummer-less trio is typical of the UK label Edition, smart and disciplined improvised music unconstrained by post-bebop conventions. This is the group’s second outing, but from the evidence of both recordings, we can surmise that this is a veteran working unit. No one is calling out standards in the studio; Instead, each player contributes original and intricate charts to the session. The arrangements are very well done.
The opening line of Kindred Spirit, with its exacting unisons and jagged rhythm, is a good indication of things to come. No drums are needed as this trio are adept at managing a swinging pulse. Hoiby’s bass is a huge driving force throughout; he alternates between snappy ostinato and unison lines. TV Shoes is a marvel of three-voiced interplay and buoyant spirits. Only at the end does it devolve into an ambiguous squabble, closed by a fade-out, which seems to concede defeat.
Hung Up waltzes along with a swaying bass line and superb linear investigations by Mark Lockheart. His is a most sympathetic use of his instrument. There is neither strain nor striving but a lyrical finesse and intelligent employment of dynamics over the whole range of the tenor. Liam Noble anticipates every move of his fast-thinking peers. He is an able harmonist but seems more inclined to doubling the melody and inserting antiphonal commentary. The third track and the hard swinging A Wing and a Prayer are the heart of this very fine album and catch this group at a happy moment of inspiration.
Liam Noble’s Moon Stairs wends its way tentatively through a melodic labyrinth of uncertain key. Some free associations ensue, led by Lockheart’s soprano. However, even in the freest setting, unisons keep things moving forward. Jasper Hoiby’s Mila has the happy mix of folk motifs and extraverted jazz dance that featured so prominently on his debut recording. Panda Feathers matches groove to simple whole note melody, yet the pianist driving left hand counterpoint doesn’t quite save the piece from a ragged expostulation.
Sanctuary ruminates with a serenity of a special kind of autumn day which is nicely captured on the group portrait on the cover. A dry field of grass, chill and sunlight under a armada of meaningful clouds. This trio is content to see how little they can say and how quietly, in stark contrast to the bustling overstatement of so much jazz-affiliated music. The final pieces maintain elevation without adding anything specifically new, except to confirm that we prefer the tenor to the soprano.
Perhaps this outstanding release will prompt some to revisit this group’s first recording (Malija: The Day I had Everything, from Edition Records EDN1064 ****) or the aforementioned (Hoiby/ Lockheart collaboration Fellow Creatures, from Edition Records EDN1075 *****). Both will repay the effort. This is a trio and a label deserving of the highest praise.
A Wing And A Prayer