Welcome to Malpesta finds Human Feel -- now a New York-based quartet of reedmen Andrew D'Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer Jim Black -- fully realizing their identity as a four-way collective deep within the architecture of the music. The album is paradoxical -- simultaneously free and rigorously controlled, filled with hot soloing and yet absent typical soloist-accompanist roles. The musicians are in it together at each moment, even while each is off in an individual world of his own making. Saxophone, clarinet, electric guitar, and drums wail away in a variety of combinations, yet the overall intensity is carefully modulated and the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements are all shared property. The quartet also makes its togetherness explicit by navigating impossibly tight and tortuously fast unison passages, as on D'Angelo's "Moods." D'Angelo contributes some of the CD's most agitated music, such as the crazed 7/8 repetitions of "Sich Reped" and stop-and-start "Undral Malpest Seam"; his melody line on "Sphasos Triem" careens all over the place with wide-interval leaps, as if musically sketching the New York skyline and frantic pace of city life. Although Human Feel are particularly adept at navigating uptempo material, the band easily steps back from the fast and frenetic, as the lead-in to Rosenwinkel's dramatic "An Hour Ago" and some of Speed's contributions ably demonstrate. The engaging midtempo groove and moody chamberesque improvisations of "Pith" and the evocative two-sax arrangement of the album-closing traditional "Yesterday I Passed" are good examples of Speed's restrained side. And his "Iceaquay" explores the place where contemporary classical music meets creative improvisation, featuring sustained reed and guitar lines that slowly unfold before staccato outbursts take over, fueled by Black's crisp percussion. Black is particularly noteworthy -- his work here and on the first CD by Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio (recorded several months before) presaged a slew of albums that would establish him as one of the most exciting drummers in creative music. Without bassists, both Human Feel and Tiny Bell Trio threw a lot of responsibility on Black's shoulders, and he rose to the challenge, setting a new standard that few improvising drummers could match. But Welcome to Malpesta foreshadows killer music from all four bandmembers, who would go on to record more Human Feel albums into the 21st century, lead their own ensembles, and also appear in groups led by the likes of Douglas, Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, and Matt Wilson. In the years to come, elements of Welcome to Malpesta echoed through the music of Tim Berne's Bloodcount, Speed's yeah NO quartet, and Jim Black's AlasNoAxis band, just to name a few. The inspiration they expressed here carried through a good many albums to follow.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch