Malaby, Tony

photo by Peter Gannushkin

Photo by Peter Gannushkin /

Primary Scene: New York

In his two decades as an integral member of the thriving improvised music community of New York City, saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby has emerged as a wholly unique and singular voice. Malaby was recently named one of Downbeat’s “80 Coolest Things in Jazz”, saying that, “[Malaby] is a formidably accomplished soprano and tenor saxophonist with enviable tone and an endless font of compelling ideas, yet he steers his music away from perfection,” and that “his considerable gifts as a melodist tend to sneak up on you.” Jazztimes added that Malaby is, “a hero of today’s improvised music scene”. 

This outpouring of praise is unsurprising given the number of projects which Malaby has been involved with since his arrival in New York in the early-1990s. In recent years, Malaby has led and recorded many of his own projects–his Tamarindo Trio with Nasheet Waits and William ParkerTubaCello with John Hollenbeck, Chris Hoffman and Bob Stewart and Palomo Recio with Ben Monder, Eivind Opsvik, and Nasheet Waits. Malaby is also a stalwart sideman, and has lent his talents to such groups as the Paul Motian Electric Be-Bop Band, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Fred Hersch’s Quintet, Mark Helias’ Open Loose,Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Eivind Opsvik‘s Overseas and Ches Smith‘s These Arches

Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Malaby’s Mexican heritage permeates his musical life. Malaby remembers that, “being a kid, in 1970s Tucson, was very Mexican. There was an atmosphere created there with music, rituals: going to mass,funerals, praying the rosary, plumes of incense smoke … all of these things, and how they would overlap, have lingered. I really think that’s who I am: that’s how I came up. And there’s really strong imagery for me, from back then. I try to communicate those experiences, with my sound and how I play.” Malaby’s vivid improvisational work and his sparse, folk-like melodies clearly convey these youthful impressions, and are part-and-parcel with his idiosyncratic musical concept. Malaby has dubbed all of projects with Spanish names and that atmosphere pervades all of his recordings.

Malaby has been recording for the Clean Feed label since the 2007 self-titled debut release of his Tamarindo trio, and since that point, he has released a string of records under his own name for Clean Feed: Voladores, a quartet record featuring drummers Tom Rainey, John Hollenbeck, and Drew Gress; the ambitious nonet record Novela, in which Malaby’s compositions were arranged by the gifted composer and pianist Kris Davis; and 2010’s Tamarindo Live which featured Tamrindo, with the addition of legendary AACM trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.

In May of 2014, Malaby released with his Tamarindo trio, Somos Agua, which serves to further solidify the telepathic improvisational connection that he has fostered with Parker and Waits since the band’s inception. Unlike many saxophonists who ostentatiously place themselves in front, or solo on top of, a rhythm section, Tamarindo evidences a long-held belief and practice of Malaby’s in which he texturally immerses himself within the sounds of his bandmates and the result is, what Malaby called, “an organic, self-generating whole”. 

In 2015 Malaby released the debut recording of his TubaCello quartet called Scorpion Eater. His recording (2016) is Paloma Recio’s  Incantations.

Cisco BradleyMalaby, Tony