MARK HELIAS' OPEN LOOSE
Verbs of Will
(Radio Legs 011)
There is a real art to making convincing, compelling small group music. Throughout his career, despite a lack of much -deserved critical attention, Mark Helias has practiced this art admirably. Along with a select handful of bassists--John Lindberg, Dave Holland and Joe Fonda come to mind-- he’s consistently led memorable combos. Though his groups have often featured his compositions. Open Loose generally trades in unfettered improvisation in a manner similar to Tim Berne’s Paraphrase. Featuring drummer Tom Rainey, tenor player Tony Malaby and Helias, this trio has lived up to its name in a series of splendid recordings. This one, on Helias’ own label, is the most focused I’ve heard, Many of the pieces incorporate compositional nuggets--unison lines, rhythmic patterns and so forth-- but these are generally springboards for freewheeling playing. There’s plenty of muscle but it’s only used in special circumstances; restraint and crystal-clear focus are more common. Each player occupies one of several roles on his instrument, adept at but not limited to the expected modes of performance. Rainey’s linear drumming might almost be melodic, while Helias can attack his bass with percussive force. And Malaby’s strong tenor sound gives him great range and flexibility, most notably on the nasty blues “How Bout it” or the heartfelt “Mistral Angel.” All across, there’s a beautiful integration of form into freedom, telepathic interplay between all three, and a real sense of the trio as an expansive entity--either starting as three distinct parts and coalescing or the reverse. Open Loose is one of those groups who sound as if they just don’t care where they’re pigeon-holed: mainstream/outside, tight/loose, flowing /disruptive, whatever--these guys play it all and it rocks. Jason Bivins Signal To Noise
HELIAS' OPEN LOOSE - Verbs of Will (Radio Legs 011)
Featuring Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Tom Rainey on drums and Mr. Helias on contrabass and compositions. Longtime downtown bassist supreme, Mark Helias, has continually juggled a variety of bands as a leader as well as a collaborator. Open Loose is his ongoing trio which have evolved through the participation of Ellery Eskelin in the past to currently with another fine tenor sax player - Tony Malaby. Their drummer is also an integral part of this great trio, the remarkable Tom Rainey, who was one of the highlights of Irving Stone Memorial Fest a few weeks ago. This trio seems to be very aptly titled since they balance between looseness and tightness, they play around and have fun with the structure of each piece. Often Tony will play the central written theme while Mark and Tom swirl around each other maintaining perfect balance, occasional these roles switch midstream as different connections interact. "How 'Bout It" is a sort of deconstructed blues with Tony's great greasy tone swirling like smoke over the top of the swaggering rhythm team below. "King Judas" starts with one of organic hands-on-drums intros that Rainey does so well, before a few strong solo sections take place and the trio finally take off for some hearty freer terrain, yet peppered still with some written bits. I dig the way "AKA" starts slowly and lyrically, but soon speeds up and dances more robustly. "Anagram" shows that even with a minimum of notes, an elegant spirit still flows in a song-like way. "Mistral Angel" soars high, the rhythm team spinning furious as Tony's tenor sails atop the flurry of activity, which glides back down to earth with Mark's superb bass solo. "Let's Roll One" begins freely and tentatively, but builds to quicker, denser conclusion. There is a wonderful balance of all three players here, with a certain spaciousness due to close listening, often with a calm center, yet restless at times.
Bruce Gallanter DTMG 7/03/03
Open Loose (Radio Legs)
Open Loose is the tightly knit trio of veteran virtuoso bassist Mark Helias, featuring the formidable tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and versatile percussionist Tom Rainey. Helias, who took his place in the vanguard of the ‘70s New Jazz scene in the groups of Anthony Davis and Anthony Braxton, two of the music’s most intelligent composers, displays a similar commitment to thoughtful structure in his writing without sacrificing the exotic earthiness he exhibited during many years of collaboration with the great drummer Edward Blackwell. Verbs of Will, recorded right after a 17-day tour of America’s Southwest, West Coast and Canada, shows off the group’s cohesive interpretations of the leader’s carefully constructed compositions. The nearly one hour 12-track CD is impressive for the variety of moods it explores and the levels of intensity it achieves.
The disc’s opener “Detonation” is a swinging affair suggestive of Sonny Rollins’ piano less trio efforts (more Freedom Suite than Way Out West). Malaby has a beautiful sound, which combines with Helias’ deep, dark tone and well chosen notes to give the trio a rich orchestral character. Rainey’s varied palette and ever shifting rhythmic patterns fill out the band. “Relic”, a short group improvisation reminiscent of early Art Ensemble of Chicago, segues into “How ‘Bout It”, a slow, deliberately executed funky melody that spirals into “King Judas”, a portrait of intensity in which the relentless rhythms of Helias and Rainey propel Malaby into explorations of the outer reaches of the tenor’s tonality. “AKA” is another melodious piece that opens with a repetitive bass line later repeated by the tenor, allowing Helias to display his impressive bowing before Malaby resumes his powerful blowing. “Anagram” is a cleverly constructed, deceptively simple piece that manages to traverse a great del of textural space due to Rainey’s daring dynamics.
While comparisons are often demeaning to musicians and meaningless to readers, they can occasionally be useful where other words may fail to adequately describe the music, particularly when its complexity requires more description than space allows. That said, the Middle Eastern sounding “Mistral Angel” might easily be mistaken for a 60’s Yusef Lateef tune and “Give Up The Ghost” similarly displays the spirit of Ornette Coleman's work from the decade. The angularity of “The White Line” is just as suggestive of Sam Rivers’ trio, while the circus-like atmosphere of “Hegemony” is redolent of Henry Threadgill and Air and “ Ekman” in name and sound reminds one of Joseph Jarman’s work. The spontaneously improvised “Let’s Roll One” (whose title refers to audio tape, not marijuana), on the other hand, sounds like nothing ever heard before.
In its recent appearances at Sweet Rhythm and the Cornelia Street Cafe, Open Loose exhibited the same cohesiveness documented on Verbs of Will while delivering the added excitement one would expect from a great group in a live performance. The intuitive interaction of Helias, Rainey and Malaby was inspired as they all continuously strived to reach ever-greater musical heights. Each set presented a similarly well balanced program, mixing songs from the new disc with other compositions from Helias’ remarkable repertoire, varying their length, rhythm and mood, so as to lead listeners with that same satisfying feeling of fulfillment one takes home after a particularly enlightening excursion or an especially excellent meal.
Russ Musto, All About Jazz (9/2003)
Mark Helias’ Open Loose
Helias has a long-standing relationship on records with Hemingway and Anderson, and the open frameworks and quick pulsation that characterized their music is present with Helias’ trio on Verbs of Will. The bass player links with the tenor saxophonist Malaby and drummer Rainey to form a trio playing spirited music with a bounce in its step. The band acts mainly as a cooperative; they bond as a unit and soar skyward on a dozen selections that become a collective experience. Still, there is plenty of room for individual expression. Helias develops very personalized solos. he combines a sense of melody with complex rhythms while making his bass sing out in hearty voice. Helias’ thrusting style produces volumes of congealing progressions to encase the trio sound in armor. On “Mistral Angel” he generates a compelling solo that merges deftly into the trio context, and this approach appears regularly on the set.
Being the sole horn player in this band, Malaby’s blowing is prominently showcased on every tune. His range is extensive, and he takes his tenor to far-reaching heights. Malaby particularly enjoys the upper end of the sonic spectrum, where he stretches his solos with elastic consistency. he weaves lon-flowing threads of connected improvisations as he charges off with wave after wave of output. His tone, while having considerable bite, actually comes across as challengingly soothing due to his fluid style of delivery. Helias and Rainey first played together on record in 1990 and remained a team on numerous albums that followed. Rainey plays primarily in the group context, allowing his drumming to add spice to the collectively brewed concoction. His rhythmic variations are key to the flow of the music, such as on “Let’s Roll One”, where he marches through several varieties of cadence behind Malaby’s assault. Rainey puts in a dash of tartness here and a spat of tang there to make the music an appetizing dish. Helias, Malaby and Rainey cook on this set. They punch out a multiplicity of counter currents to keep the pot boiling through numerous changes in tempo and mood. The program rolls on in unified fashion resulting in improvised music that is consistently satisfying.
Frank Rubolino, Cadence Magazine
Bassist Mark Helias’ Open Loose trio
has been around for a while, with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer
Tom Rainey filling it out for the past couple of years. VERB OF WILL is a record
of how the three sounded after playing together for weeks on an extended West
Coast tour. Tight as a drum which Rainey wields with extraordinary sensitivity,
Open Loose (the band) is another modern mainstream group, or one that should
be heard that way if the neo-cons weren’t so busy turning the clock back
musically -- and politically too, come to think of it.
Helias, who has shown his mettle in situations ranging from a bass duo with Mark Dresser to membership in Oliver Lake’s big band, is the rhythmic force here whose presence is more felt than heard. The bassist, who also wrote most of the tunes, invested them with enough tempo changes and alterations to keep things interesting. Saxophonist Malaby, who also leads his own band, varies his tone from smooth, near-alto-like to chesty, traditional tenor, with his playing straight ahead as often as it’s experimental.
“Give Up The Ghost”, for instance, is a foot-tapper with a loping beat, that finds the saxman quickly moving from standard phrasing to pauses, slurs, double timing and triple tongue ornamentation. Helias’ expansive bass line holds onto the beat, as Malaby uses his light-toned upper register to initially state and later reprise the theme. “Let’s Roll One”, on the other hand, is freer, with bell vibrations and note shards characterizing the tenorist’s split tones that meet up with quick drum thwacks from Rainey, who has also worked extensively with saxophonist Tim Berne.
More enigmatic, “How ‘Bout It”, the longest composition at nearly eight minutes, has a melody that appears to be midway between that of a TV Cop show theme and Delta blues. Beginning andante, Helias speeds up the tempo for first a walking bass solo, then some plucks with his bow and thumps on his axe’s side and front. Using only the lightest pressure on his cymbals, plus circular wallops on his toms and snare, Rainey is the perfect partner for this output, while also accompanying Malaby’s extended trills.
Then there’s “AKA”, where the reedman floats a surprisingly unruffled and smooth line on top of bowed bass cello-like glissandos. Helias’ pile driver timbres soon transform the tune into a Sonny Rollins-like calypso, including eccentric echoes of “God Save The Queen”. Up in alto range, Malaby also works multiphonics into his solo, but the constantly reprised theme isn’t lost.
Elsewhere Rainey -- understated as always -- approximates the sound of conga drums and wood blocks on “Mistral Angel” where Helias produces buzzing, woody, complementary lines. Meantime Malaby’s usual throaty tone turns quicker and more slurred, shifting into a higher pitch to meet the bull fiddle’s double-stopping pulse.
-- Ken Waxman All About Jazz on the Web