Mark Helias's Open Loose | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mark Helias's Open Loose 

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In the liner notes to his excellent new album New School (Enja) bassist Mark Helias explains that "open loose" is "how I sometimes refer to sections of pieces that involve open form improvisation." A veteran of bands led by Anthony Davis, Anthony Braxton, Ray Anderson, and Dewey Redman and the leader of several medium-size groups of his own over the past two decades, Helias has plenty of experience tethering such flights. But this trio with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Tom Rainey provides more insight into the "open loose" approach than any band he's been in since BassDrumBone, with Anderson and drummer Gerry Hemingway, in the 80s. Helias writes driving riff-based patterns and indelible melodies--his graceful ballad "Gentle Ben," a piece he's also recorded with Italian reedist Daniele D'Agaro, sounds immediately timeless--but his cohorts here stretch them to the breaking point. He's no iconoclast when it comes to structure, but after these guys are through with a tune you might be hard-pressed to identify the parts: Malaby, one of the most exciting, flexible reedists in New York right now, frequently twists the melodies into unrecognizable shapes, embellishing them or sidestepping them altogether, playing in their shadows and only intermittently suggesting the composed turns of phrase. And Rainey--who has also masterfully blurred the line between form and freedom in Tim Berne's Paraphrase--is this trio's secret weapon. The blueprint of each tune seems so deeply burned into his brain that he can completely ditch the pulse for a few measures and then reclaim it with no beat out of place. On New School, a live recording that really captures the way the trio's work flows, only one piece is totally improvised, but all of them are energized by a dangerous spontaneity. Wednesday, October 3, 8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Von Sickle.

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