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Strange Unison

by Mark Helias' Open Loose

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Graveling 06:35
Sonic Rights 05:19
CBJ 03:57
Illustrate 05:52
Circling 04:23
Irrational 04:18


Strange Unison is the fifth recording by Open Loose since 1996. It was originally released in 2008 on cd and is now available as a digital download and cd.

Open Loose is Helias' own group, a working unit with drummer Tom Rainey and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby that's devoted to the bassist's compositions. As with the best tenor-bass-drum bands, the focus is on interaction rather than showcasing a saxophonist and the results on Strange Unison are consistently inspired. 

The group's forté is a taut, slightly boppish feel, but it's striking how far back and how far forward it can work in the tradition. The gorgeous blues of "Blue Light Down the Line" has Helias' rock-steady line anchoring the turbulent moan of Malaby's horn and the shuffle of Rainey's drums. When Helias solos, that startlingly articulate low register really comes to the fore, notes bending with a guitar-like expressive clarity in a zone you don't expect to hear it. Beginning near the opposite pole from that traditional blues, the piece "Irrational" seems at times to be a series of disconnected sounds that seek their own order, with remarkable sonic similarity between Helias and Malaby. 

As different as the methodologies of individual tracks are, there's a consistent dynamic throughout, Helias' bass a central, structural presence that seems to register both empathy and order in the midst of Malaby's tumult and turmoil and Rainey's vibrant beat and explosive dismantling of expected patterns. Open Loose is one of the most consistent bands currently active, reflecting Helias' adroit balancing of order and spontaneity. 
Stuart Broomer

OPEN LOOSE [MARK HELIAS/TONY MALABY/TOM RAINEY] - Strange Unison (Radio Legs 013; USA) Featuring Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Mark Helias on double bass & compositions and Tom Rainey on drums. This is the fifth fine disc from Mark Helias' great trio, Open Loose. Except for their first disc that featured Ellery Eskelin on tenor, the personnel has pretty much remained the same. Over the past few years, whenever I've heard Mark Helias play live, he has knocked my out each time. Mark opens "Graveling" with his magical bass sound/approach. This is a most perfectly balanced trio with each member an integral part of the group sound. Tony's warm and enchanting tone is at the center of this tune with Mark's resonant bass and Tom's distinctive swirling drum style. "Blue Light Down the Line" is a fine laid-back and bluesy song with Tony's blustery, old-school tenor tone swaying slowly in the shadows. "Sonic Rights" is a hoot, a slightly twisted tune with an odd structure that is as difficult to explain as it is to play. The production here is superb with Mark's bass lusciously recorded. The opening bass intro on "CBJ" is just magnificent sonically speaking. When Tony's haunting tenor comes in, it is just too much, a big sound, a grand tone that is hard to deny. I love the way the trio jumps through dynamic hoops on "Illustrate" as they shift through a complex set of changes. Like wow! The bass and drums solo together near the end and are just incredible in the telepathic interplay. Master drummer, Tom Rainey, is another secret/special ingredient here, he constantly moves in mysterious ways, his playing has a unique, organic way of weaving his own percussive style within structure and style of each piece. Tom has a way of making the other members sound better, balancing the rhythm, melodic and composition perfectly. It seems to me that each disc by Open Loose just gets better, more focused and solid as a one force or statement. A most mature offering like expensive wine or fine cheese. Dig in, my friends, for a fine meal for ears, heart and soul. - BLG Downtown Music Gallery


released August 18, 2020

Strange Unison – Open Loose

1. Graveling 6:37
2. Blue Light Down The Line 9:31
3. Sonic Rights 5:18
4. CBJ 3:54
5. Illustrate 5:51
6. Circling 4:47
7. Johns and Marks 4:36
8. Irrational 4:18
9. Silent Stutter 6:05

Mark Helias - double bass
Tom Rainey – drums
Tony Malaby – tenor saxophone

Produced by Mark Helias
Recorded 5/11-12/2007 by Andrew Felluss
at 58 North Six Media Labs, Brooklyn, NY
Mixed by Mark Helias at Radio Legs Studio NYC
Mastered by Jim Hemingway
All compositions by Mark Helias © Radio Legs Music (BMI)
Special thanks to Claudia Barritt, Mary Perillo and Josh Roseman the Grand Facilitator.
Cover photos and inside left photo by Ken Van Sickle
Inside right photos by Josh Roseman. Design by Radio Legs


all rights reserved



Mark Helias New York, New York

Mark Helias is a renowned bassist, composer and producer who has performed throughout the world for more than four decades with some of the most important and innovative musicians in Jazz and Improvised Music including Don Cherry, Edward Blackwell, Anthony Davis, Dewey Redman, Anthony Braxton, Abbey Lincoln, Cecil Taylor, and Uri Caine.
Sixteen albums of his music have been released since 1984.
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