Reviews for Renewal
From MusicWorks Issue #104
By Ken Waxman
More astringent in their reed interaction then earlier tandem tenor teams such as Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, the overwhelming techniques of American saxophonists David Liebman and Ellery Eskelin advantageously boost each other’s strong points.
Seconded by the spontaneous pulses of drummer Jim Black from Eskelin’s working trio, and the steady back-up of bassist Tony Marino from Liebman’s regular band, the quartet ranges through a series of originals written by band members plus two versions of Eric Dolphy’s “Out There”. Although of different generations – Liebman was born in 1946, Eskelin in 1959 – their mutual respect means that the resulting unison or double counterpoint styling harmonically plugs any pre-existing timbral gaps from either soloist. A similar irregular vibrato allows each saxophonist to frequently improvise a half-step apart until one dips into slurred basso growls and the other nervy altissimo shrills.
The Dolphy line features accelerated spitting pops and knife-sharp cries, with the tune completed by each saxophonist sequentially trading fours with the drummer. Alternately, both are confident enough to limn “Renewal” in a gentle balladic mode, with Marino’s rasgueado arpeggios and triple-stopping their only anchor.Probably the most expressive piece is Liebman’s “Demi and The Blue Man”, with its vaguely Latin rhythm conveyed by cow-bell whacks, tambourine rattles and bass drum bumps. As the tempo speeds up, the saxmen construct echoing blocks of broken-chord cross tones until reaching a climax of scalar sluices, chirps and tremolo note clusters
From Jazz Review
This 2008 release presents some of the more intense tenor sax work you’ll likely hear. It’s a coherent and structured endeavor, where song-form and furious improvisation attain a fruitful coexistence. Here, sax icons David Liebman and Ellery Eskelin engage modern jazz with the fortitude of two warriors armed and ready for battle. Consequently, the quartet does indeed convey a spirited, group-centric line of fire.
Liebman’s longtime bassist Tony Marino and Eskelin’s musical comrade and drummer Jim Black provide a largely, explosive underpinning for the dual sax attack. They execute loose grooves while generating quite a bit of heat throughout. Black’s quirky yet power-packed backbeats in concert with Marino’s pumping lines augment the saxophonists weaving choruses and knotty unison phrasings.
On the piece titled “The Decider”, the band soars skyward atop a scorching rock pulse, awash with the hornist’s wailing extended notes and free-jazz breakout. They also delve into bop and free-bop via rip-roaring solos and furious cadences, evidenced on Eric Dolphy’s “Out There (take 2).” No doubt, these are men on a mission. During other regions of this outing, the band tackles the blues, while offering sublime, late-night environs amid angular dissections and edgy phrasings. And on the final track, listed as “take 1” of Dolphy’s “Out There,” the saxophonists pull out the proverbial stops via the hard bop approach. (Essential listening)
From Downbeat Magazine
By Troy Collins
Renewal is the brilliant follow-up to Different But The Same (Hatology, 2003), the debut of saxophonists David Liebman and Ellery Eskelin's co-led quartet. Initially perceived as a curious pairing, with Liebman the conservative elder to Eskelin's liberal youth, the two tenors actually share numerous aesthetic similarities, including an affinity for both inside and outside playing. Although separated by a generational divide, they have longstanding ties; Eskelin studied with Liebman in the early eighties.
Liebman's stalwart bassist Tony Marino and Eskelin's frequent collaborator, drummer Jim Black form the reliable rhythm section. The quartet continues to skirt the tenuous divide between free jazz and post-bop, a delicate balancing act they accomplish with vivacious aplomb. A varied set, Renewal features two tunes apiece from the session co-leaders, one each from Black and Marino, a freely improvised ballad and two enthralling takes of Eric Dolphy's classic “Out There.”
Much as they did on their debut, Liebman and Eskelin continue to confound stylistic preconceptions. A complementary pair with an uncanny flair for spontaneous harmonies, they elicit untapped aspects from each other with a conversational acumen that avoids hackneyed tenor duels and cutting contests.
Liebman's early studies with Lennie Tristano and Charles Lloyd cemented his mastery of chord changes and traditional forms well before his apprenticeship with Miles Davis in the early seventies, yet his predilection for more exploratory avenues has always hovered in the margins. In the company of like-minded peers, he is joyously unrestrained; he even surpasses Eskelin in intensity with his impassioned solo on the ebullient opener, “Cha.”
A veteran of the nascent Knitting Factory scene, Eskelin is renowned as a wild and wooly free improviser, yet his lyrical and harmonic contributions in the company of Liebman are masterfully sublime as he orbits melodic niches with focused moderation.
A pliant rhythm section, Black and Marino veer from roiling intensity to cool understatement. Their raging coda on Black's infectious “Cha” brims with punk rock energy, as Marino's hyperkinetic pizzicato fuels Black's throttling palpitations. The title track is the inverse, an introspective ballad feature for Marino's sinewy bass, tempered with soulful restraint from the horns.
Despite their relatively limited palette, the quartet embraces a wide range of territory. Inspired by a recent trip to Mauritania, Liebman's modal travelogue “Dimi and the Blue Man” ebbs with rich North African harmonies and colorful percussive accents. Eskelin's multi-sectional “The Decider” ranges from somber introspection to brusque, angular free jazz, while the two tenors' circuitous interaction reaches a fevered pitch on the petulant “IC.” Stretching the bounds of tradition, Marino's 10 bar blues “Palpable Clock” saunters with a languorous Mingus-like fervor.
As an exploration of the limitless potential found in the two tenor quartet format, Renewal is a stunning example of modern jazz that straddles the line between freedom and form by musicians who transcend expectations.
By Derek Taylor
In appraising latter-day tenor tandems, reviewers (myself included) tend to heavily reference the past as context. Each saxophone pair gets compared to a string of predecessors: Player X is the Ammons to Player Y?s Stitt while Player A is Pres to Player Z?s Herschel Evans, and so on. Such shorthand name-checking makes for colorful copy, but it rarely leaves an accurate or lasting impression on the music described. Dave Liebman and Ellery Eskelin face plenty of precedent with their team-up. That they manage to at once embrace and supplant historical potential referents is a chief reason why this second outing hits on every cylinder for nearly the entire duration.
Granted, the game is stacked in their favor from the start given the rhythm section on hand, the sensible amalgam of one colleague apiece from each man?s working band. It?s also no coincidence that bassist Tony Marino and drummer Jim Black occupy positions on the marquee. Reason number one hits like a pallet of bricks on the opener ?Cha?, a high energy groove number scripted by the drummer that sounds vaguely Masada-ish. Liebman doesn?t even pause for a theme, flipping the vertical launch switch in a rocket fuel solo that has Marino and Black working overtime beneath him. The duo have their revenge in the tune?s pipeline-riding coda, accelerating full speed into punk Surfaris territory with snapping slap bass and precision pummeling drums and leading to the natural listener affirmation- Kowabunga, dude!
So many times the facing off of like instruments, especially saxophones, leads to a simplification of strategy and emphasis. Outright combat, in the case of the aforementioned Ammons and Stitt, or dapper congeniality as was the frequent repartee of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn are the usual options. In either scenario heads often become disposable obstacles to solos. Eskelin and Liebman sense this skew and go out of their way to ensure the music maintains high standards of intrigue no matter what. Two takes of Dolphy?s ?Out There? delve deep into the tune?s bop roots and revolve around a string of incendiary breaks. Again, Marino and Black personify that rare sort of rhythm section, one that risks ruin repeatedly by constantly inviting implosion and ratcheting the adrenaline output as a result. It?s not all fireworks, as the title piece tacks into chamber territory in its investigation of overlapping horn textures and commensurate rhythmic ambiguity. The nine pieces fly by, engendering an immediate desire to repeat the trip. Listeners with a sweet tooth for top-tier tenor shouldn't hesitate in taking this one home.
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