Sam Clark, Volume One Magazine
Ever since coming to UW-Eau Claire in the fall of 2009, Mike Malone has worked hard to establish himself in the Chippewa Valley jazz scene. He’ll be the first to tell you that hard work pays off. For the past two years, Malone has sat behind the drum set in UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I and has organized successful monthly swing dance nights at Higherground, the on-campus nightclub. In addition to his activities on campus, Malone can also be found out in the community, performing in small combos at Shanghai Bistro and Acoustic Café on a regular basis and working as a clinician in the public schools.
Now you can add one more thing to Malone’s résumé: a full-length album of original music. On April 11, Malone released his debut album, Overalls & Airplanes, at the State Theatre as part of Volume One’s Backstage Concert Series. The album was recorded by Evan Middlesworth at Pine Hollow Audio in the beginning of January and features seven of Malone’s original compositions, as well as one lent by local jazz legend Sue Orfield. Malone’s interest in composition stems from the Coriolis Effect, a jazz quartet he played with last year that really focused on original music. “While I was playing with the group I wasn’t really writing, but a few of the guys got me inspired to begin writing,” Malone says. “After that group, I began to devote a lot more attention to composing, which resulted in the music on this album.”
On Overalls & Airplanes, Malone is joined by four other musicians from the wide group of players he has been able to connect with while in Eau Claire. Josh Gallagher, whom Malone refers to as his closest musical friend, contributes electric piano while another mentor, Brian Handeland – a UW-Eau Claire grad currently pursuing his masters at the University of North Texas – plays alto sax. Malone also called on UW-Eau Claire sophomore Jake Kobberdahl to fill the trumpet spot and rounded out the quintet with Ken Perkerwicz, a recent graduate of the University of North Texas who Malone met through Handeland. In addition to the musicians present on the album, Malone credits Orfield, Middlesworth, percussionist Adrian Suarez, and UW-Eau Claire jazz director Robert Baca as invaluable resources for the completion of Overalls & Airplanes.
Musically, the album knows no boundaries. Malone and his band tackle ballads, bop, and atmospheric settings with ease, the underlying link between all of the tunes being Gallagher’s distinctive dancing keyboard work. The front line of Kobberdahl and Handeland work well in unison and in harmony, and both are very talented improvisers. Evidence of their skills is readily available on the album’s title track, a 10-minute opus that finds both Kobberdahl and Handeland taking extended solos. Malone’s drumming seems to get more adventurous as the album progresses, particularly on “Like Silver,” a Latin-tinged tune that features some pretty extensive auxiliary percussion and a long drum solo before finally returning to the song’s head melody. Overalls & Airplanes ends with “Curtains,” the only song not written by Malone. Penned by Orfield, the tune is a mid-tempo piece that grooves pretty nicely and is a perfect punctuation to the musical statement Malone expresses throughout the album.
Always looking ahead, Malone is already eager to return to the studio and record some more songs. “I would love to develop some more high-quality jazz projects with a handful of great players from around this area,” he says. “I only have another year before I complete my studies, so I plan to work with as many of them as possible.” Malone is also working on writing big band music with the hope of distributing it to local high schools.
Malone and his live band play under the name Malonious Thunk, a clever riff on the name of jazz icon Thelonious Monk. The band will perform from 9pm to midnight on Saturday, April 27, at Mona Lisa’s Restaurant, 428 Water St., and you can catch Malone and Gallagher together from 7 to 9pm every other Wednesday at Acoustic Café, 505 S. Barstow St. Overalls & Airplanes is available at The Local Store, at Malonius Thunk shows, and at malonedrum.bandcamp.com.