I have had the pleasure of rediscovering two great saxophonists in the last week or so. One, Lou Gare, recently passed away, while the other, Tony Malaby, is very much alive and seemingly at a peak of creativity at the moment. I find certain parallels between the playing of these two.
I have been listening to the collection of solos by Lou Gare recorded in live situations with Mike Westbrook’s The Uncommon Orchestra released on Westbrook Records. These are mostly extracts featuring Gare on tenor saxophone from performances in theatres, arts centres and pubs in the South West, some solo, some with a small rhythm section and two extended performances with the full orchestra of D.T.T.M, a suite dedicated to the memory of trombonist Danilo Terenzi and drummer Tony Marsh.
I discovered this recording as a result of reading a very perceptive review of the album on Richard Williams’ The Blue Moment website, which you can access here. I very much agree with Williams’ point that Gare’s playing combines ‘a fundamentally modern mainstream approach with freshness and substance’. Gare’s tone on the tenor saxophone derives from the Coleman Hawkins Ben Webster school, and has all the warmth and depth of that style. He also has something of the laid back character of Lester Young, and he shows an ability to create long flowing solos full of ideas and creativity in which he never seems to repeat himself. Gare was a founder member of the improvising group AMM and is known as an improvising saxophonist. I imagine that the solos in this collection are largely improvised freely, but, by using the language and tone of the modern mainstream, Gare creates something truly original. Particularly impressive is the short track Propositions where, as explained in the sleeve notes, Gare spontaneously develops a beautifully logical solo backed by bass and drums when Westbrook asks him on the spot to introduce the next set. Equally impressive are the solos in the context of the large ensemble on the D.T.T.M and D.T.T.M. 2 tracks where Gare’s warm but understated playing makes a nice contrast with the ensemble writing.
I had heard Tony Malaby a number of years ago in Mark Helias’ Open Loose group, but not since. So it was good to be able to present him in one of my own promotions in the lovely Hexagon Theatre at mac (Midlands Arts Centre) in Birmingham. The Hexagon is small intimate venue with an excellent acoustic for free playing, and it seemed to bring out the best in the cooperative trio in which Malaby was playing with two excellent French players: guitarist Richard Bonnet and drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq. The trio began with a short free improvisation and then moved into a series of tunes penned by either Malaby or Bonnet where the playing wove in and out of the compositions and free improvisation; the encore was a short free improvisation. The band had played the three previous nights in Newcastle, London, Strasbourg (!) before coming to Birmingham and played a very integrated and tight performance. Malaby also has a tone on tenor saxophone that ultimately derives from the original school of Hawkins and Webster. It is a fuller sound that takes in elements of John Coltrane’s and Sonny Rollins’ approaches, and he is concerned to keep a natural sound on both the tenor and the soprano saxophones. His solos, as with Gare’s, have a fluency and an impressive logical development. In an interview which you can read here, Malaby talks of wanting to write compositions that sound as though they were spontaneously created and making improvisations sound ‘structured and organized’. All these characteristics were to the fore in the Birmingham concert. Bonnet and Darrifourcq share the same philosophy and had clearly developed a strong rapport with Malaby.