Drummer Tom Rainey
This relentless creative energy also made an impression on saxophonist Malaby. They first met in 1992, and since Malaby moved to New York permanently, the two have been playing together in projects led by French hornist Tom Varner and in Helias’ Open Loose, for example. But this association has reached new heights in the last two years, as evident on two recent releasesSanchez’ Mirror Me (OmniTone) and Malaby’s Apparitions (Songlines).
“Tom has transcended the role of the drums to playing music, because of its melodic content,” Malaby says in a near-reverent tone. He also credits Rainey for opening him up to broader concepts of music, conceptually and rhythmically. And he tests these ideas on Apparitions with his double-drum band, where Michael Sarin joins Rainey. Sometimes the two play bombastically, trading salvos across the drums, while other times they play more airy grace notes, using brushes and mallets to temper their attack. The results are impressive.
Additional ground is covered in the new improvising trio of Malaby, Sanchez, and Rainey. Here, Sanchez plays more Wurlitzer than piano, and instead of song-oriented material, the musicians react in the moment with careful listening and decisiveness. This month, the group will celebrate the release of their debut Alive in Brooklyn (Independent) at Barbés, where it was recorded last fall. “He’s just an incredible improviser,” says Malaby. “It feels like playing with Tom ‘the person’, not Tom ‘the drummer.’”
Rainey finds this level of personal interaction essential to the music. Different musical relationships inspire different aspects of his playing, just as you might enjoy different activities with different friends. “Fortunately, everybody that I’m playing with lately, they’re all my closest friends,” he says, jokingly adding, “It’s just one big love-fest.”
Despite the numerous projects he is involved with, Rainey considers them “bands”, not merely sideman gigs. He performs in situations that allow him to be himself and to which he feels he can contribute.
A particularly fertile and durable association has been with bassist Drew Gress. Rainey notes that at one point it seemed as though every band he was in, so was Gressas part of pianist Fred Hersch’s trio (which lasted about eight years), pianist Simon Nabatov’s group, saxophonist Andy Laster’s Hydra (another longtime association), Berne’s Paraphrase, and Malaby’s group. Gress also called on Rainey for his band Spin and Drift, which plays often this month and is preparing material for an upcoming recording.
Gress refers to Rainey as a “true Zen improviser” with the ability to provide whatever the music he’s playing needs. And he does this while maintaining his own personality. “Listening is the most important aspect of playing creatively, and of our playing together,” Gress says. “When you’re playing with Tom, you have the feeling that you’re being heard in a big way.”
With such praise, it is no wonder that Rainey is in high demand. Although it varies, he says he spends about three months a year touring. He no longer has to scramble for gigs, but would like to be able to perform more often with some of the bands. But if this month is any indication, it will be another busy year.
Though he hasn’t ruled it out, Rainey has no firm plans to lead his own group. “I’m actually creatively satisfied, because I get to really do whatever I wantluckily, I play with my friends who trust me,” he says. “Right now that’s fine for me.”