Raphe Malik

Speak Easy

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Recorded in Toronto in the spring of 2000, Speak Easy is a rare solo album by Raphe Malik. The American free jazz trumpeter is left alone in front of the microphone. He takes the opportunity to remind listeners of his deep jazz roots. The set consists of original compositions leaving room for improvisation. Each one begins with a clear melody that acts as a leitmotif or head. They all imply a beat and a tempo -- tunes in a nutshell. Malik ornaments them, weaving more and more intricate lines around them, breaking out in a free-form solo to come back to the melody, refreshed. The structure has been tested many times in the past; it carries a tradition that permeates the whole album. Solo trumpet albums are not common and thus lovers and students of the instrument will be attracted to this release, especially since it is generally friendlier (because jazzier) than similar opuses by Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Dixon. But as charming as Malik's lines are, Speak Easy drags a flaw: the recording quality. In louder passages the sound tends to distort, which is inexcusable. Another problem is that, when the album is played at a high volume, something else is going on and can be distinctly heard whenever the musician pauses: it's another trumpet soloing in the distance (especially noticeable in "Mystery of Human" and "Tone Row"). If this were an LP, the problem could be attributed to a bad pressing or pre-echo. This is obviously not the case on Speak Easy, so listeners probably hear the remains of a previous take, indicating the use of a cheap reel of tape. In any case, it is annoying and once again inexcusable.

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