Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet - Time Like This

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Personnel – Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Kris Davis: piano; Michael Formanek: double bass; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, Haitian tanbou.


Michael Formanek surfs avant-garde waves with the freedom and astuteness that always characterized his playing, either statically open-toned or changeably groove-laden. The bassist/composer/bandleader built his new CD, Time Like This, with the help of respected figures in the New York’s modern creative current: saxophonist Tony Malaby, pianist Kris Davis (a member of his Ensemble Kolossus), and drummer Ches Smith, who doubles on the vibraphone. As excellent improvisers and adepts of acoustic elasticity, we find them concentrating efforts in texturizing with logic and maintaining the ears wide open to promptly react to one another’s moves.

Down 8 Up 5” bursts forth on the opening track, with the title disclosing Davis’ repetitive movement of thirteen notes, eight ascending and five descending. Malaby divagates independently, supported by timely bass plucks, cymbal colors, and piano voicings conjuring up intriguing dreams and mystery. The excellence of Smith on vibraphone increases this sense of sinking into a subliminal dream. It’s a tremendous composition indeed.

If bass and percussion initiate a strange dance together on “Culture of None”, a piece propelled by a consistent groove and marked by the strong, creative presences of Davis and Malaby, then bass and sax do the same as a point of departure on “The New Normal”, which has Malaby reeling off swinging lines adapted to his own style. Smith is also on focus here transitioning from vibraphone to drums with dexterity. The portentous young drummer creates whirlwinds of rhythm on “The Soul Goodbye”, joining forces with the bandleader to form a well-oiled rhythmic gear. Within a free jazz environment, Malaby’s extemporization evokes a beseeching Coltrane and a fervent David S.Ware through a spiritual parade of notes and rhythmic figures. Cathartic, this tune contrasts with the following number, “That Was Then”, whose lighter nature encompasses the rhythmic tenacity of rock and the sinuous harmonization of jazz.

A Fine Mess” is actually a very neat song uttered with passionate expression, while “This May Get Ugly” feels loose and vibrant, painting assorted landscapes that can range from compactly urban to spaciously idyllic.

Time Like This is a worthy effort from a gifted bassist who deserves all our respect and admiration, not just for this particular great outing but for all the work done so far.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Down 8 Up 5 ► 05 - The Soul Goodbye ► 06 - That Was Then