NYC JAZZ RECORD
by Ken Dryden
Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach have
collaborated for decades, first in the ‘70s fusion band
Lookout Farm. They co-founded Quest in the ‘80s,
working with several different rhythm sections, though
bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart have
been with them for some time. Due to Beirach’s home
in Europe, Quest reunites sporadically (seemingly and
welcomingly more frequent these days) and the results
never prove disappointing.
Circular Breathing is a tribute to Miles Davis,
including six of Wayne Shorter ’s compositions from
the period during the mid ‘60s when he worked with
the trumpeter and his “second great quintet”. Beirach’s
fiery playing is the highlight of “Pinocchio” while the
aggressive attack in “Footprints” showcases Liebman’s
powerful tenor, fueled by the rhythm section’s
inventive accompaniment. The introspective take of
Shorter ’s “Nefertiti” has a mysterious air, with
Liebman (on soprano) and Beirach taking a meandering
introduction before stating the theme as McClure and
Hart enter. Liebman’s abstract “M.D.” has an eerie air,
opening with a tense Beirach solo. Beirach’s title ballad
has a sorrowful tone, elegantly played by the quartet.
There’s also a hidden bonus track: a spunky, Liebman/
Beirach duet of “Footprints” from a concert, tenor
saxophonist and pianist blending a delightful mix of
humor and adventure in their romp.
NYC JAZZ RECORD
by Ken Dryden
Liebman and pianist/jazz scholar Lewis Porter
had previously worked together on a few occasions, so
as they collaborated on thesaxophonist’s
Autobiography ("What It Is"-Scarecrow Press),
they decided to make Surreality. The
choice of guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Brad Jones and
drummer Chad Taylor, none of whom had worked
with Liebman before, provided added inspiration to
the saxophonist, who is known for his many different
stylistic interests and ideas, represented in a prolific
and diverse discography.
“Untitled Free Ballad 1” seems thoroughly
composed at times, with a moody meandering theme,
Liebman’s emotional tenor sax conveying a sense of
sorrow over the brooding rhythm section. Two Albert
Ayler works are played as a medley. Ribot’s frenetic
guitar is prominent in “Omega is the Alpha”, an
arrangement that blends a rockish sound with the
feeling of Baroque music on steroids in the introduction.
Porter ’s brief interlude on Yamaha Motif provides the
transition to Liebman’s passionate tenor sax, which
conveys the anguish of Ayler without cloning his
sound. “Trigonometry”, the unusual Ornette Coleman/
Pat Metheny composition (from 1985’s Song X), also
provides fertile ground for the quintet’s experiments, w
with Liebman’s darting soprano sax and Ribot’s jagged
chords fueled by the free-spirited rhythm section. The
stunning conclusion is a forceful setting of John
Coltrane’s “Alabama”, with Jones’ dramatic arco bass,
Ribot’s edgy guitar, Liebman’s impassioned tenor and
Porter’s anguished piano.
All About Jazz
by Troy Collins
Non Sequiturs is the third Hatology release from the cooperative quartet co-led by saxophonist's David Liebman and Ellery Eskelin, following 2008's Renewaland their 2005 debut, Different But The Same. Although the pairing initially seemed
surprising (Liebman is Eskelin's former teacher), the two tenors have since
demonstrated an innate kinship; each is a fearless improviser, well-versed in the
tradition, but unafraid to venture into uncharted territory.
Throughout the album, they alternate probing cadences and lyrical motifs with an
uncanny synchronicity that belies their respective reputations—Liebman as the
venerable traditionalist, Eskelin as the bold avant-gardist. Yet in fact, the
saxophonists are so simpatico that it is occasionally difficult to tell them apart;
Liebman himself once stated, "I can't always tell the difference myself."
Enriching their congenial rapport is the dynamic interplay of Liebman's longstanding
bassist Tony Marino and Eskelin's steadfast drummer Jim Black. Their intimate
familiarity with the nuances of each co-leader's approach imbues the proceedings
with supple precision, even during the most abstract excursions. In contrast to the
group's previous date, neither Marino nor Black contributes compositions to this
studio session. Instead, the two leaders split writing duties, with their respective
tunes separated into a virtual set list; Liebman's pieces occupy the first half, while
Eskelin's titular suite dominates the second.
"New Breed" (drafted during Liebman's 1970's tenure with Elvin Jones) opens the
record, lending new meaning to the song's title with a surge of muscular tenor
salvos—a visceral aspect further amplified in an ecstatic cover of Albert Ayler's
anthem "Ghosts." The amiable discourse of "In The Mean Time" provides subtle
respite between the aforementioned numbers, underpinned by a sinuous modal
The eight-part "Non Sequiturs" suite takes up the entire second half of the
program, episodically building in intensity from the hushed unisons of "No Opening"
to the rousing funk of "Adjusted Scatter." Eskelin's work requires adherence to
notated rhythms, leaving pitch choices to the improvisers; the outcome is a
contrapuntal web of interlocking parts designed to steer soloists away from clichéd
harmonic patterns. Despite such rigorous frameworks, the final results swing with
their own syncopated logic.
Non Sequiturs expands upon the conceptual inroads made in Liebman and Eskelin's
previous efforts; their democratic embrace of freedom and form transcends
conventional notions of melody, harmony and rhythm, yielding a highly
personalized interpretation of the piano-less quartet tradition.
By Cormac Larkin
US saxophonist and educator David Liebman is one of the true originals of American jazz, utterly committed to every note and prepared to take the sort of risks from which lesser musicians shrink. His association with fellow saxophonist Ellery Eskelin began in the 1980s, when the younger man came looking for lessons, and it has grown into such a close musical collaboration that even Liebman can’t always tell which saxophone is which. Eskelin compares the suite of tunes here to a river making its way to the sea, the terrain offering not only channels but obstacles too, turning the water this way and that. But whether it is meandering across the plains or rushing down a mountain side, with the fiercely creative rhythm team of Tony Mariano and Jim Black, this is a record in the best traditions of improvised music, where risks are emphatically embraced and the music flows where it wants to.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ by John Kelman
Jazz and classical music have long been bedfellows. As far back as the 1920s, clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet was quoting Italian opera in solos, and in the 1950s/60s, notable composers/arrangers like Gil Evans and George Russell were, at least in part, driven to innovation through exposure/study of contemporary classical music, with Gunther Schuller even coining the phrase "Third Stream" to describe the two musics' meeting point. But, for the most part, all of this music bears some kind of connection to the jazz tradition. Sky Changes does, too, but it's a more tenuous link, one that comes, in more ways than one, through featured soloist, saxophonist Dave Liebman, who joined the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Jazz Ensemble and TACTUS for a reprise of this adventurous program, at the New York school's performance space, a year after its 2009 Paris premiere.
Liebman not only plays soprano and tenor throughout this challenging one-hour program, he also contributes one composition, the abstract and oblique "South Africa," a duet for soprano and viola that he wrote when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990. That the majority of the eight-minute piece is through-composed, with only a small space for improvisation near its conclusion, speaks to the overall tenor of the recording. But Liebman's contribution goes even further: the four other extended pieces on Sky Changes—two written by Italian bassist Riccardo del Fra and two from French flautist Christophe dal Sasso—were inspired by (and, in some cases, quote directly from) his The Distance Runner (HatOLOGY, 2005), an overlooked gem of a solo saxophone recording.
Contrasting the typical jazz ensemble this is, instead, a 26-piece group with nary a rhythm section or (barring Liebman) saxophone to be found. Instead, clarinets, flutes, oboe, bassoon, French horns and tuba dominate, and the addition of five string players, a harpist and three percussionists renders its greater proximity to the classical environment complete, despite the inclusion a single trombone, trumpet and piano. And despite tinges of Gil Evans in del Fra's writing, and chord changes placed against Liebman's tenor solo in del Sasso's "Couleur," Sky Changes is clearly more, as Liebman describes it, "20th century writing with 'some' jazz influence."
Don't expect this music to swing, though there's plenty of pulse to be found, especially during the final minutes of "Couleur" and in the bolero-like pulse of the title track. But Liebman's visceral extemporal soloing over these complex compositional constructs could only come from someone who's dedicated his life to jazz and improvised music. And it speaks to Liebman's broader purview—a purview already clear early in his career, through his work with pianist Richie Beirach (whose own approach to jazz has been unmistakably linked to his classical interests)—that he is capable of performing the difficult written music here and, even more, improvising with absolute confidence, credibility and, at times, abandon.
A record that needs to be heard, to fully appreciate the far-reaching interests and talent of this 2011 NEA Jazz Master Fellowship recipient, Sky Changes may be a provocative listen for those with stronger jazz predilections, but it's an absolutely rewarding one.
By Robert Iannapollo
Saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach are old hands at the sax/piano duet having recorded in this format six times since 1975. They've always been an interesting pair: Beirach is a cerebral player and although his prime influence was Bill Evans, he always seemed to operate in his own universe while Liebman is an extrovert, one of the best and most original of the Coltrane-inspired players who surfaced in the 70s. But it's this very contrast that produces such successful music. Despite being their first duo release since 1989,Unspoken indicates their telepathic communication still operates at a very high level. It's an interesting program that takes in a Khachaturian invention, the ripe old standard “All The Things You Are” (here given a rhapsodic reading with Liebman on soprano), a piece by Israeli pianist Micu Narunsky, Coltrane‟s “Transition” and three compositions each from Beirach and Liebman. It‟s a remarkably full program, most handled in a thoughtful manner but Liebman really lets rip on tenor on Beirach‟s “Awk Dance” (sounds almost written for him) and on soprano for the Coltrane piece. These two are so comfortable in this format that the development of the music seems almost second nature.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By John Kelman
It's one thing for individual artists' voices to be instantly recognizable, another thing entirely when a readily identifiable language evolves amongst them, one that's absent when they're apart. There's no mistaking the bop-rooted expressionism that saxophonist Dave Liebman imbues with oblique lyricism, whether with his longstanding group on Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) or in a new collection of largely old friends on Five on One (Pirouet, 2010). Nicknamed "The Code," pianist Richie Beirach's personal marriage of jazz vernacular with that of classical composers including Béla Bartók, Alexander Scriabin and Anton Webern dates back to solo recordings such as Eon (ECM, 1975) through recent release Round About Bartók (ACT, 2001). But when The Code gets together with 2011 NEA Jazz Master Liebman, something special happens—something that transcends individuality and enters the realm of collective idiom.
Collaborating frequently over the decades in groups such as Lookout Farm and Quest, geography has largely kept them apart since the mid 1990s until a reformed Quest—on Redemption (Hatology, 2007) and Re-Dial (OutNote, 2010)—and Beirach's recent retirement from teaching in Germany seems to have created more opportunities for these two soul brothers to work together.KnowingLee (OutNote, 2010) took their longstanding duo in a different direction with the addition of saxophonist Lee Konitz, but as undeniably fine as that set was, Unspoken represents a welcome return to the unadorned format first heard on the criminally out-of-print Forgotten Fantasies (A&M, 1977).
Nearly 35 years later, the language that Liebman and Beirach have been honing has become nothing if not more recondite. Even when tackling an overworked but deserving chestnut such as Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," the familiar melody is couched in the pianist's expansive reharmonization, becoming an ever-present but tenuous thread at constant risk of unraveling. But it's the opening "Invention"—Beirach's arrangement of Aram Khatchaturian's "Adagio," from the ballet Gayaneh, written in 1942 but most popularized by film director Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—that speaks to this duo's remarkable empathy, as the pianist's sustaining introductory notes create a soft landscape over which Liebman's soprano slowly moves towards its equally recognizable theme. Time—as is true with everything about this duo—is fluid, allowing the music to breathe with rarely paralleled freedom and unconscious unity of intent.
Beirach's originals such as "Awk Dance"—with a groove that only the most temporally secure are apt to find, made all the more difficult for shifting in and out of double time—contrast with "Tender Mercies," described by the saxophonist as one of his "simplest ballads" but, traveling from dark dissonance to brooding beauty, seems anything but, beyond the relatively limited range of Liebman's wooden flute.
The saxophonist's closing medley best describes the breadth of this duo, as Beirach channels Olivier Messiaen with a touch that's both delicate and firm on "Hymn for Mum," before Liebman enters equally elegantly, switching to tenor for an a capella intro to "Prayer for Mike" that, in its visceral wails and multiphonic bursts, feels more like catharsis, though it does settle into a more plaintive tone when Beirach reappears.
A paradox of form and freedom, angst and calm, and fire and, if not exactly ice, then at least cool, Unspoken refers, no doubt, to the direct and uncanny line of communication built between Liebman and Beirach over the course of nearly 50 years, where no words need be said to create a language that speaks volumes.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By John Kelman
While there is some truth in the old adage “if it ain't broke don't fix it,” it's not always bad to mess with a good thing. Saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach have been playing together for over 40 years, in ensembles ranging from the big band of Quest for Freedom (Sunnyside, 2010) and smaller ensemble of Quest and Re-Dial: Live in Hamburg (OutNote, 2010) to duo records like 1985's Double Edge, recently reissued with two early Quest albums as Searching for the Next Sound of Bebop (Storyville, 2010). It's one thing to place two players who share such a deep, simpatico connection in larger context. But to mess with their most intimate and most revealing format, the duo; is that really a good idea?
Apparently it is. While saxophonist Lee Konitz, nearly 20 years Liebman and Beirach's senior, admits to having missed out on the very generation of which these two sexagenarians were a part--especially in those critical exploratory years of the late 1960s and early '70s--there's a common element linking them together, and that's Lennie Tristano, an often overlooked pianist who was experimenting with the building blocks of both free and modal jazz long before they were “innovated,” in the public eye, by Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. While Konitz played with Tristano, and Liebman and Beirach simply studied him, KnowingLee--a first encounter instigated by a chance letter to Konitz, written by Liebman--is a collection of standards, originals and spontaneous compositions compelling in its revelation of a subliminal connection shared at a deeper, conceptual level. Rather than diluting Liebman and Beirach's chemistry, Konitz actually enhances it.
Both saxophonists have forged immediately recognizable tones on what are largely considered to be their primary instruments. Konitz's alto tone is absolutely pure, as is Liebman's on soprano--largely warm, and avoiding the nasally tone of one of his main influences, John Coltrane. Both also play other axes here--Konitz soprano, and Liebman tenor--but it's unfairly dismissive to call them secondary. They are simply instruments played less often (though Liebman, these days, balances his two horns more equitably), and Liebman's tenor turns out to be an especially fine tonal foil for Konitz's alto on the freely improvised and appropriately titled “Don't Tell Me What Key.”
The trio approaches well-known standards, like Dave Brubeck's “In Your Own Sweet Way,” with a similarly open-mind, Beirach's subtle twists and turns never coming at the expense of a swing that's just as often implicit as it is overt. Liebman's soprano approaches clarinet-like warmth when it soars into the upper registers, while Konitz weaves relentless melodies in and around his partners as if they were, indeed, made for each other.
”Free” may have some specific stylistic precedents, but it's really about choice, and whether they are turning Miles Davis' “Solar” on its edge--breaking down into a stunning, unaccompanied alto/soprano exchange still predicated on form--or playing completely without a safety net on the twin-soprano improv, “Migration,” KnowingLee provides stunning evidence that even if it ain't broke, a little adjustment, every now and then, is far from a bad idea.
As Always- The Dave Liebman Big Band (Mama Records)
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
By Ken Dryden
David Liebman's long list of accomplishments includes working in many different-sized groups in a variety of styles. For this big-band project the soprano saxophonist leads a big band in concert playing his compositions, though with arrangements by others and the band conducted by Gunnar Mossblad (who also plays several reed instruments). "Brite Piece" was first recorded by Liebman early in his career when he was a sideman with Elvin Jones. Although its composer dismisses it as "just a simple ditty with a vamp in the bridge," Andrew Rathbun's arrangement for big band provides Liebman with colorful backgrounds for his improvised flights. Trumpeter and alto flügelhornist Scott Reeves, who took part in the concerts, scored two songs. "Annubis" is an exotic, mysterious piece with the leader playing wooden flute in the introduction, with a solo by oboist Charles Pillow (with a delicious vamp behind him by bass clarinetist Chris Karlic), an understated Middle Eastern-flavored Vic Juris guitar solo, and an ominous synthesizer interlude by Jim Ridl, followed by spots featuring Liebman's piercing soprano sax and Reeves' spacious alto flügelhorn. The second Reeves chart is another early Liebman work, in which the arranger scored Liebman's original solo from his record with Elvin Jones for the sax section. The explosive finale, "Turn It Around," showcases drummer Marko Marcinko and Juris, in addition to the leader. Liebman hasn't been heard in a big-band setting often enough during his career; perhaps the success of Live: As Always will open doors for future recordings.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By John Kelman
Quite possibly the hardest-working saxophonist—if not the hardest working musician, period—these days, not a month goes by when there doesn't seem to be a new release from veteran jazzer Dave Liebman.
In the twelve months since autumn 2009 alone, Liebman has been spotted in freer terrain, collaborating with another active saxophonist, Evan Parker, on Relevance (Red Toucan, 2010), and drummer Michael Stephans on Nomads (ITMP, 2009), while mining the modern mainstream with the collective super group Contact on Five on One (Pirouet, 2010), also featuring pianist Marc Copland, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart.
Perhaps the most distinctive soprano voice of his generation, coming from the post-John Coltrane world, but with a warmer and less nasally tone, Liebman's expressionistic temperament is put to the test on As Always featuring his own New York-based big band, under the direction of Gunnar Mossblad highlighting the same rhythm section as his smaller Dave Liebman Group.
There's a comfortable chemistry with Liebman's big band that also provides a consistent voice on this set of six Liebman originals that date as far back as one of his first compositions, the more centrist, fourths-based "A Bright Piece," and move forward to the more contemporary "Anubis," which often makes its way into Dave Liebman Group set lists, including its stunning, balls-to-the-wall set in Ottawa back in 2008.
First recorded on one of the group's best studio dates, Conversation (Sunnyside, 2003), "Anubis" rarely isn't a tour de force, but here, expanded by trumpeter Scott Reeves' astute arrangement for big band, it gives new meaning to that often overused and abused phrase, beginning with Liebman's wooden flute, layered over a pad of shifting brass colors that move so effortlessly throughout its fourteen minutes that it's only when they gradually resurface that it becomes apparent how passages that feel spontaneous are, in fact, preconceived.
The definitive, mid-eastern 5/4 riff that so defines the essence of "Anubis" builds gradually, with Charles Pillow's oboe solo positioned in a curiously distant place in the mix, yet still a powerful early feature that leads to a surprising (in this context) synth solo from big band keyboardist Jim Ridl, a longtime fixture on the Philadelphia scene and an equally longstanding collaborator with guitar icon Pat Martino. Here, however, his guitars partner is Dave Liebman Group's Vic Juris, a perennially underrated guitarist who may not possess Martino's cachet, but who is, in fact, a far more versatile player, with a broader command of tone, technology and style that's rarely matched, and even more rarely surpassed. His solo here may be brief, but it's as perfect as ever, with microtonal hints perfectly supporting the Arabian flavor of a tune named after an Egyptian deity. Elsewhere, Mossblad's arrangement of "Philippe Under the Green Bridge"—first heard on Liebman's understated duo record with ex-Liebman Group keyboardist Phil Markowitz, Manhattan Dialogues (ZOHO, 2005)—is a more impressionistic piece, once again a feature for Pillow on oboe, but this time engaging in a lengthy in tandem and unsupported duo with Liebman, whose soprano is perfectly matched here as the two empathically orbit, disperse and coalesce on a dark tone poem that gradually builds in texture and dynamic, ebbing and flowing beneath Liebman's combination of lithe catharsis and subtile interactions with both the brighter horns and his gentle rhythm section.
Much as Dave Holland's large ensemble uses, as its core, his own quintet, Liebman makes his group—with Juris, the ever-pliant bassist Tony Marino, and powerhouse drummer Marko Marcinko—the center of the saxophonist's larger, 20-piece ensemble. There's value in the decision to operate a big band that, unlike Holland's, isn't meant to be a perennial road warrior, though Live / As Always is, of course, a live recording, culled from a 2005 performance in Denver, Colorado, and a 2007 show in Toledo, Ohio. What's, perhaps, somewhat surprising is that, despite a two-year gap between these shows, Liebman's big band has remained constant, a challenge in a time where it's hard enough to schedule dates with a quintet, let alone a group this size.
As much as the large ensemble's chemistry is predicated on the consistency of Liebman's smaller Dave Liebman Group, so, too, does maintaining a regular line-up for this larger group work to its advantage, as it winds its way through knotty arrangements like Guri Agnon's expansion of "Turn It Around," a Liebman piece from the early 1990s that, inspired by the saxophonist's work with drum icon Jack DeJohnette, shifts meter and tempo in ways that, in lesser hands, would sound stiff and forced, but here feel natural and completely organic, driven by Juris' strangely bluesy ethereality and Marcinko's effervescent kit work. It's a powerhouse closer that, as with the rest of Live / As Always, may feature many of the big band's members but is ultimately focused on Liebman, who manages to be assertive in stance and visceral in his drive to the stratosphere, while always remaining somehow melodically grounded, delivering solo after solo of pure invention and inimitable focus.
by Donny Harvey
Live As Always by the Dave Liebman Big Band is the heavy stuff. Aficionados of modern jazz will enjoy many hours of pondering the sounds of this musically complex recording. Fans of the lighter side of music who don't want their ears challenged, on the other hand, might as well look elsewhere. You'll get no bubble-gum pop here.
For those of us who don't mind chewing a little before swallowing, this album offers up something really unique. It's virtually a snapshot of today's 'New York Scene'. The musicians playing on this disc, all the way down the line, are important New York jazz artists. The liner notes proudly state it. If I'm not mistaken, the arrangers also have their New York connections. Here are six wonderful tracks that show how Jazz today is done by some of the very best in the Big Apple. What fan could pass up a recording that could possibly take on the role of a time capsule for Jazz near the turn of this, our century? And on top of everything else, it's a live recording! It's one thing to put together sophisticated numbers like these songs in the studio. In a concert setting the musicianship required to sell this music is very high. Happily, these guys have it!
Of course the arrangers and other players are crucial to the success of this CD. It would be an error, though, to not spend a moment on composer and saxophonist Dave Liebman. For him usual Western musical practices are clearly not a large enough musical pallet. It's not even the obvious fact that the usual twelve tones (and their typical usage) aren't enough for the full expression of his ideas. Sometimes his playing is more like the call of an exotic bird (like on his entrance during the intro to “A Bright Piece”). In other places on the recording, such as during “Anubis”, his altissimo (extreme high range) playing takes on a singing quality so free that it's hard to imagine how he does it with an instrument. With each new moment listening to this album, you'll find his sheer inventiveness to be amazing. Live As Always is just great modern jazz. Enjoy!
DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY NEWSLETTER
by Bruce Lee Gallanter
DAVE LIEBMAN BIG BAND With GUNNAR MOSSBLAD/DAVE BALLOU/VIC JURIS et al - As Always: Live (Mama 1039; USA) features all-new arrangements of Dave Liebman's compositions, including As Always arranged by Grammy finalist Pete McGuinness (Smile). "Featured musicians include Dave Liebman on soprano sax, flute & compositions, Jim Ridl on piano & synth, Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, Marko Marcinko on drums plus 14 reeds & brass including Dave Ballou, Sam Burtis & Tim Sessions.
Although Dave Liebman has more than fifty discs as a leader in his long (forty+ year) career, his big band discs are few & far between. Gunnar Mossblad also plays sax here and directs this impressive 19-piece large ensemble. Mr. Leibman's compositions are consistently engaging as are the arrangements which are done by five different men. Mr. Liebman concentrates on his soprano sax and is featured throughout playing a number of fine solos. This is a tight, powerful and most spirited big band and they sound fantastic throughout this marvelous disc.
I really dig the rich layers of horn harmonies on "As Always", something special I haven't heard since checking out the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Big Band at the Vanguard in the seventies. The way the soprano rides upon the waves of other horns is just awesome sounding. Liebman plays sublime wooden flute on "Anubis", a fine, long and winding eastern-sounding piece with superb oboe from Charles Pillow. There are too many great solos throughout to mention but I will mention a few: Vic Juris on guitar, Jim Ridl on piano & synth and Chris Karlic on bass clarinet. This is a live disc with superb sound and I was knocked out from the beginning to the end."
by Brad Walseth
The seemingly omnipresent Mr. Liebman's new album As Always is a a big band outing, with a half dozen of the veteran reedman's songs arranged by five different arrangers. These compositions are played live with authority by Dave and his usual quartet (guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko) surrounded by a 14-piece horn ensemble of respected NYC musicians at two different shows in 2005 and 2007. The first-rate group is conducted by Gunnar Mossblad and they fire through a series of interesting arrangements of some of Libeman's exhaustive catalog.
"A Bright Piece" -- arranged by Andrew Rathburn starts things off on a sprightly pace with a sound that fits its title well and an almost unbelievable solo from the guest of honor. Of course, Liebman is the primary soloist and his playing on the soprano sax is central to the overall sound and he continues to play his Post-Coltrane-style lines at a very high level. Pete McGuinness takes on the title track and takes it into a lush and romantic track filled with vibrant colors and more stunning work from Liebman -- a fine player who perhaps has been more overlooked than he should for the notion that his work is heady. This recording should help dissuade this notion and his masterful work on the often-abused soprano sax should be more recognized.
A true highlight is the more than 14-minute mysterious "Anubis" -- with Liebman opening the piece on wooden flute before switching over to soprano to duel with Charles Pillow's oboe and Chris Karlic''s bass clarinet on this Middle-Eastern influenced number. Juris plays some delicious angled guitar, while Jim Ridl further disjoints the atmosphere with his wobbly synthesizer solo, on this piece which reminds of some of Miles' moody '70s forays, but with big band breaks.
The incendiary "New Breed" (like the previous song -- arranged by Scott Reeves) is a tune Liebman wrote for Elvin Jones while the superb "Philippe Under the Green Bridge" approaches the modern chamber music of Schoenberg and Messiaen before evolving into jazz directions that build to an intense climax with complex horn charts in a stunning arrangement from Mossblad that is another highlight of this recording. Marcinko and Juris get an opportunity to take solo spots on the freewheeling "Turn it Around" (arranged by Guri Agmon) that ends the album with some blistering fast soprano runs. Liebman has received numerous honors recently, including the Order of Arts and Letters medal from the French Ministry of Culture and Comunication and the 2011 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master Award; this album is a fine addition to an already highly successful year.
OREGON MUSIC NEWS
Within jazz, the arrangement of instruments typically called big band has just as much diversity as the jazz genre itself. Big band music has a strong tradition bolstered by some of the most popular names of the style, including Glen Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Gil Evans, Bob Mintzer, etc. Saxophonist Dave Liebman (a powerful name himself on the scene) has been leading his own big band for years, using it to explore both the music of other composers, and his own tunes, as arranged by others. On his new release, As Always (2010 Mama Records), Liebman chooses the latter, bringing together six of his own compositions, as arranged by Gunnar Mossblad (also the director of the band), Andrew Rathburn, Pete McGuinness, Scott Reeves, and Guri Agmon.
Throughout the six long tracks (none clock in at shorter than seven minutes), Liebman and the arrangers stretch the big band through a variety of styles and approaches. Rarely does the listener find sections that directly relate back to Ellington or Basie (the relation is there, it’s just not right there on the surface) as so many big band albums tend to do, but instead, the music seems like an attempt to recreate the feeling of Liebman’s small groups, with more instruments chipping into the comping roles that would traditionally be held by the guitar or piano.
In the liner notes, Liebman himself mentions that he finds the prospect of arranging for so many instruments daunting–”I just cannot imagine what you do when you have so many choices of voicings and colors. I get crazy with just a sax quartet!”–but the arrangers that he has found, or have found him, complement his playing style well, writing non-traditional voicings and instrument combinations that inspire, rather than limit, Liebman’s always exploratory improvisation.
For listeners who have enjoyed Liebman’s past large-ensemble projects, this CD will be a welcome addition to his or her collection. It’s a blend of melodicism and dissonance with the unmistakable soprano saxophone voice of Liebman (he says in the liner notes that his playing only the soprano on the album is a conscious choice to be a common thread) to tie it together. Fans will probably also enjoy the chance to hear a live-recorded album without any studio gloss on top.
by Kevin Le Gendre
Liebman is in imperious form alongside several New York jazz A-listers. Undoubtedly deserving of the title of modern day tenor titan, Dave Liebman has also made an important a contribution to the vocabulary of the soprano saxophone, the ‘straight horn’, whose popularity and more widespread adoption was furthered by John Coltrane in the 60s.
Generally speaking, it is a difficult instrument to master, apparently because the tuning and intonation present challenges for even the most skilled of practitioners. Despite having a smaller sound than a tenor or baritone, the soprano is capable of tremendous power as well as serenity – think of Coltrane’s turbulent whirlpools on the improvised sections and tranquil streams on the melody of My Favourite Things – and this finely crafted big band set by Liebman reinforces that point.
Backed by six reeds, eight brass and a four-piece rhythm section, many of whom are A-list New Yorkers, Liebman is in imperious form, and the way he moves right through a wide tonal and stylistic spectrum, taking the instrument from muted, almost flute-like delicacy to boiling, vocalised aggression lends substantial character to the whole performance. In fact, the soprano really comes into its own during drama-fuelled passages in which it sends wincing high notes against the ominous descending chords of the horn section, piercing the other reeds like a sharp ray of sunlight through a thick band of cloud.
Arrangements wise, the finely moulded harmonic architecture extends the evolutionary lineage of Ellington, Evans et al, but the original composing from Liebman, under the direction of Gunnar Mossblad, has a personal cut and thrust, particularly in interludes which are daring without being overly histrionic – a temptation to which some writers succumb when they have such a rich palette of sounds to play with. Furthermore, Liebman’s embrace of non-western music, his deployment of Asian modes as well as a gorgeous wood flute, harks back to his classic 1974 album Lookout Farm.
Jazz composers are sometimes overlooked because of their ability as improvisers, and maybe that holds true for a musician like Liebman. This record should ensure such myopia is henceforth avoided.
By Frank Bongiorno
Dave Liebman’s latest recording, As Always, is one of numer¬ous recent happenings in the creative life of this extraordi¬nary musician. In addition to the release of this new recording, and a busy fall touring schedule, Liebman has also reached several prestigious milestones in his career of late, including receiving the 2011 National Endowment of the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award, the Order of Arts and Letters medal from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2009, and celebrating twenty-five years of teaching his Saxophone Master Class at East Stroudsburg University in August of 2011, among other honors and achievements.
As Always not only features Liebman as a performer, but also as a composer, as all the compositions on the CD are original Lie¬bman compositions arranged for big band by various well-known jazz arrangers today. The big band’s personnel is composed of some of the finest musicians in the northeast and directed by long-time Liebman friend, as well as collaborator of Liebman’s instructional materials, Gunnar Mossblad. Also, the performanc¬es on this CD are taken from live performances by the DLBB on October 3, 2005, and April 7, 2007.
The first cut on the CD is one of Liebman’s first original compositions, A Bright Piece (a.k.a. Brite Piece). While Lieb¬man describes this piece as a “simple ditty” in the liner notes, arranger Andrew Rathburn adds some interesting new ideas to complement the basic nature of the piece including a chorale-like opening and several interludes to connect the various sections into a cohesive musical unit. The ensemble swings hard through¬out the tune and Liebman’s playing is equally aggressive and forceful when necessary.
The title cut of the CD, As Always, is a warm and lyrical waltz with beautiful harmonies that paint colorful musical landscapes as the music unfolds. Pete McGuinness’ arrangement appro¬priately highlights the subtleties of the composition with his instrumentation and unique compositional addendums, while Liebman’s playing puts the finishing touch, accentuating the nu¬ances of the piece in his improvisation. Liebman’s "Anubis" evokes a Middle Eastern flavor with its exotic scale colors, unique rhythms and, unusual instrumentation that adds a wooden flute, oboe, and bass clarinet to the big band sound. One of two tunes arranged by Scott Reeves on this CD (he also arranged the following composition, "New Breed"), Reeves’ decisions regarding instrumentation of this arrangement capture the essence of Liebman’s composition while expanding its instru¬mental depth and dynamic range.
"New Breed" is a driving composition written by Liebman when he was with the Elvin Jones group in the early seventies. Reeves uses the full power of the big band to project the energy of Lieb¬man’s composition in his arrangement of this tune, and includes a harmonized saxophone soli of Liebman’s actual solo on the recording he made with Elvin’s group. Regardless, the band is never overpowering, and allows Liebman to solo effortlessly over top of the band with flowing ideas and melodic lines.
"Philippe Under the Green Bridge" is a composition inspired by a painting colored in all green by Monet that Liebman saw at an exhibit in Boston. In contrast to Monet’s painting, Liebman’s composition, as he describes it, “is definitely one of my more chromatic pieces." "Philippe...." is indeed chromatic, but in a colorful, harmonic sense. Mossblad’s arrangement not only highlights the harmonic tension, but it also enhances the essence of the composition with overlapping textures and unique timbral combinations within the band.
The final composition on the CD, "Turn It Around," is in reference to a rhythmic anomaly experienced by Liebman in a group he played in during the eighties, and in which, this composition is rhythmically derived. Arranged by Guri Agmon, Turn It Around opens with a fine drum solo by Marko Marcinko before settling into a driving, funky groove. The angular melodic line of the tune soon gives way to strong solos by guitarist Juris, and Liebman over the tune’s rhythmic puzzle.
What is most impressive of this CD, other than the creativeness and artistry of Dave Liebman, is the precision of the ensemble given the difficulty level of the compositions and the arrange¬ments, coupled with the fact this is a live recording. Great music and great musicians do not always translate to a great recording, but As Always certainly proves it can be done. Enjoy!
by Richard Kamins
Soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman is in the midst of a long and varied career as a musician, composer, producer, and educator. In these economically challenging times, he also finds time to record with a big band and even is doing several live gigs as well. As opposed to many other modern large ensembles, Liebman supplies the original material but farms out the arrangement and is also not the conductor. His new recording in front of this 18-piece band, "As Always" (MAMA Records), is made up of 6 tracks, 4 recorded at the University of Colorado/Denver in October of 2005, the remainder at the University of Toledo, Ohio in April 2007. Conductor Gunnar Mossblad (who is a member of the reed section) arranged 1 tracks, trombonist Scott Reeves supplied 2 and 3 came from commissions outside of the band.
Liebman solos on each tracks - his soprano work is so impressive, with a tone that is often singing, sometimes keening, rising over the band or riding along with them. The music is filled with surprising turns such as Liebman's wooden flute fluttering over the brass section on "Anubis" followed by a melody that features the oboe of Charles Pillow in duet with the bass clarinet of Chris Karlic. "Phillippe Under the Green Bridge" is a rolling ballad with a long soprano solo supported by the trombone section, then all the brass, all atop Marko Macinko's splendid drum work. The recording closes with the funky, hard-driving, "Turn It Around", with Liebman reading the melody with guitarist Vic Juris. The guitarist gets the first spotlight, riffing over the pulsing synthesizer of Jim Ridl and Macinko's drum barrage. The leader pushes the rhythm section even harder and they respond in kind.â€¨"As Always" is an hour well-spent with Dave Liebman and his Big Band.
There are no false notes, no lazy arrangements, no "treading water" beneath the soloist - instead, the music is exciting, challenging yet approachable, with Liebman playing inspired, modern, music. To find out more about this CD, go to www.daveliebman.com - Jason Crane interviewed Dave Liebman for the 200th episode of "The Jazz Session" and it's well worth listening to - go to http://thejazzsession.com/2010/09/16/the-jazz-session-200-dave-liebman/
By Pierre Giroux
The creative side of Dave Liebman is on full display in this live recording of his big band entitled “As Always”. The six tracks on this disc are all extended pieces composed by Liebman and are intended not only to showcase the band, but also the virtuosity of the leader on both soprano sax and wooden flute.The seventeen piece band is not like the chart-burning organizations that were fronted by Buddy Rich or Woody Herman. This cerebral group is well studied along the lines of the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band or the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. The compositions they play have complex arrangements, require a high degree of musical culture, and encompass unusual harmonic structures. Entrusting his compositions to a coterie of arrangers, Andrew Rathburn takes “A Bright Piece” one of Liebman’s early tunes, and provides an ensemble mosaic on which Liebman builds his impressive soprano solo. There seems to be some confusion regarding the name for this composition. In the liner notes it is shown as “Brite Piece” and on the album back cover it is called “A Bright Piece”. The title track “As Always” was arranged by Pete McGuiness as a gentle ballad, but evolves into something more furious with Liebman’s solo, before reverting to the original theme.
The two following compositions “Anubis” and “New Breed”, were arranged by band member Scott Reeves, and couldn’t be more different. The former, which has a more out of the ordinary Middle Eastern treatment, not only provides an introduction by Liebman on wooden flute, but other members of the band, such as Charles Pillow on oboe and Chris Karlic on bass clarinet, chip in with attention-grabbing solos. On the latter tune, which is scored more along conventional jazz lines, pianist Jim Ridi is given an opportunity to shine, together with Liebman’s lively soprano sax.
The final two tracks are “Philippe Under the Green Bridge” and “Turn It Around”. Of the pair, the latter is the more interesting. Arranged by Guri Agmon, it begins with a Marko Marcinko drum solo and then segues into an intense guitar solo from Vic Juris, which is followed by Liebman on soprano sax, where he convincingly displays the influence of John Coltrane. Marcinko then takes the tune out with his impressive drum work.
Given the economics of trying to keep a big band in place for regular gigs, it is not surprising we have not heard Dave Liebman more frequently in this setting, given these sides were recorded in 2005 and 2007. That’s a pity
Lieb Plays The Blues A La Trane-The David Liebman Trio (Daybreak)
It’s a sax master class, as usual.
THE GUARDIAN (UK)
…full of passion, invention and sheer joy…
…en dat is bijzonder goed uitgepakt.
Diese Live-Einspielung vom April 2008 (…) schafft tatsächlich eine unglaubliche Atmosphäre…
Für Trio-Fans eine absolute Bereicherung.
…a worthy tribute to Coltrane and a more than welcome addition to Liebman’s extensive discography.
Few can conjure the spirit of the blues like Liebman (…) Village Blues is the most breathtaking sweep of emotions that might be heard on soprano saxophone for some time to come.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ (USA)
…five lengthy tracks that shine from beginning to end.
BOSTON POST GAZETTE (USA)
…Lieb Plays the Blues à la Trane is a smouldering piece of work.
JAZZ, BLUES & THE TRUTH (C)
…an Adrenalizing, Unexpected trio album.
…a must-own for Liebman fans…
LUCID CULTURE (USA)
I give this my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating (…) my “PICK” for the best live jazz recording of 2011.
Zzjaj Productions (USA)
…impressive examples of passion tempered by deliberate control.
“Lieb Plays the Blues à la Trane” is destined to become a classic…
THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD (USA)
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
By Ken Dryden
Jazz is often at its best when musicians come to a live performance without preplanning a set, which is the case when David Liebman recorded this trio set at a Belgium club called De Singer in 2008. With the strong support of bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke, Liebman tackles five blues either written or recorded by John Coltrane, starting with a breezy, playful version of Miles Davis' "All Blues" that swings like mad, with the soprano saxophonist making great use of space and taking the piece far beyond its usual horizon. Liebman's free-ranging exploration of Coltrane's infrequently recorded "Village Blues" is a welcome addition to his discography, as the leader shows a bit of the master's influence in his powerful, avant-gardish soprano solo. The remaining songs feature Liebman on tenor sax. Liebman doesn't simply go through the motions in the loping "Up Against the Wall"; he gives his instrument a workout, exploring nearly every possible path. Liebman features both Beets and Ineke prior to taking the spotlight in his romp through Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." Beets is the initial soloist in Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane," setting the table with a brilliant effort before Liebman explodes from the gate with a burning effort of his own. The intimate setting of this club performance gives the listener a front-row table and the opportunity to enjoy an NEA Jazz Master at the top of his game with the help of a superb rhythm section.
AL L ABOUT JAZZ
By Raul DeGama Rose
There are few artists who can channel the spiritual fervent of John Coltrane better than Dave Liebman. Liebman was so deeply moved by Trane, that it took him two decades to renew a commitment to revisiting the legendary saxophonist's work. Liebman was so completely under Trane's spell that, by his own admission, it was like having a musical epiphany. Liebman has developed a voice so singular and unique that his broad tone on tenor saxophone and his plaintive, almost crushing wail on soprano mark him with one of the most distinctive styles of horn-playing in all of modern music. Liebman is, of course, rooted in modal music, but his approach is not quite as raw as Coltrane's. His honks and bleats are shorter; his lines more elastic (especially on the soprano), and he breathes the Lydian modes more exquisitely in the ebb-and-flow of his playing.
On Lieb Plays the Blues á la Trane, he burns with a discernible zeal for the blues, making the emotions of the deep blues all his own, with majestic storytelling. There is wailing, as well as the mercurial whoop for joy. Few can conjure the spirit of the blues like Liebman, because few artists have paid their dues and triumphed over human adversity the way the saxophonist has. Thus, there is a certain honesty; a deep sincerity in the manner of his playing. Liebman's playing--like Trane's--is the cry of a soul twisting and turning, as it negotiates life's travails. His caterwauling ululations on “Village Blues” is the most breathtaking sweep of emotions that might be heard on soprano saxophone for some time to come.
It is clearly Liebman's attempt to showcase the blues with Coltrane's feeling and fervor, thereby keeping the spirit of the musician alive. This he succeeds in doing by devoting his efforts to a sort of metaphysical (rather than musical) aspect of the blues. He does, however, translate metaphysics into music, in much the same way that poets like John Donne and Andrew Marvell did centuries ago. Liebman is actually an ancient soul who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the purity of experience through music. And it is this aspect of his artistry that makes him a kindred spirit to Coltrane, rather than the mundane similarities of playing the soprano and tenor saxophones.
For good measure, Liebman also adds some classic blues charts to this outing. For instance, there is Miles Davis' “All Blues,” and Coltrane's mighty soulful drama, “Up Against the Wall,” which is so fraught with dynamic tension that it is almost crystalline in tone and manner. For relief, there are “Mr. P.C.,” Trane's tribute to bassist, Paul Chambers and “Take the Coltrane,” a wonderful chart that Duke Ellington wrote for his classic date with Coltrane. All are examples which feature ingenious twists and turns at the hands of Liebman on this album of mighty blues.
THE GUARDIAN (LONDON)
By John Fordham
David Liebman is one of the most creative jazz saxophonists on the planet – but he adds to that an unmistakably single-minded devotion to fresh music-making that makes each new album feel like an informal meeting with an inspired friend. Liebman didn't plan this Coltrane-dedicated trio exploration of the blues – he just turned up on tour at Belgium's De Singer club with bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke and felt like examining Coltrane's harmonically revolutionary approach to the idiom. Three pieces here are therefore Coltrane blues originals, alongside a feverishly whirling visit to Miles Davis's All Blues and a finale of Duke Ellington's Take the Coltrane. In between is the deliciously lazy swinger Up Against the Wall that turns into a slamming improvisation, a skimming Mr PC featuring the powerful Eric Ineke, and a quietly whimsical and eventually exultant Village Blues. It's a sax master-class, as usual.
THE IRISH TIMES
by Ray Comiskey
Even the astonishingly consistent Liebman must have been surprised at how this blowing session, made on tour with bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke in 2008, took off. It’s full of the passion, invention and sheer joy in playing that the great saxophonist can summon in the right company. The common thread of this live date is blues written by or associated with Coltrane, an acknowledged seminal influence on Liebman.
But this is no “tribute” album – and in any case there is more to Liebman (and Coltrane) than the blues. What distinguishes the best performances here ( All Blues, Mr PC, Take the Coltrane and, especially, Village Blues ) is Liebman’s instinctively creative response to the tug of the underlying, age-old blues structures, and the tension between them and the free-ranging, highly original soprano and tenor improvisations they nourish.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Bruce Lindsey
One day in April, 2008, saxophonist Dave Liebman, on tour in Belgium, was feeling a little under the weather. He decided to replace his trio's planned set list for the evening with a set of blues tunes associated with John Coltrane. Kris Roevens recorded the set, at De Singer in Rijkevorsel, and two years later it has become Lieb Plays The Blues À La Trane--a tribute to the great saxophonist, but also a tribute to the creativity that can arise from spontaneous decisions.
A new release from Liebman is hardly an unusual event--he must be one of the most prolific of jazz musicians--but it is always a welcome one. Liebman has clearly been inspired by Coltrane--describing seeing him in the '60s as “my epiphany”--and there are plenty of tunes associated with the jazz legend in Liebman's back catalogue. The rhythm section here--bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke--are both experienced Liebman sidemen, appearing on Lieb Plays Wilder (Daybreak, 2005) and Lieb Plays Weill (Daybreak, 2009).
Coltrane's “Mr. P.C.” is the album's centerpiece, in both its track position and performance. It may not technically be Liebman's best performance of the set--that honor probably goes to his beautifully fluid soprano sax on another Coltrane composition, “Village Blues”--but it's the one that has the greatest drive, and the most visceral power. The trio really swings, Liebman's tenor playing has some inspirational moments, and Beets' solo is full of inventive, strong playing and fat tones.
The trio swings, too, on its up-tempo, spare but forceful rendition of Miles Davis' “All Blues.” Liebman's soprano is almost aggressive at times, cascades of notes pouring out in a seemingly endless stream, while Ineke is both playful and commanding. Beets plays another fine bass solo, but his sound suffers from the album's one problem--a tendency for the sound mix to give too much emphasis to Ineke's drums. This is usually to the detriment of Beets, but at times Liebman's saxophone is also rather overwhelmed.
In contrast with much of Liebman's output, the spontaneous, unplanned, performance of Lieb Plays The Blues À La Trane might seem like a minor addition to the saxophonist's ouvre. Indeed, Liebman writes in the sleeve notes: “There is nothing new contained herein...” Maybe there isn't, but spontaneity is at the heart of jazz, and the in-the-moment decisions made by Liebman, Beets and Ineke one night in Belgium have resulted in some terrific music. This is a master class in trio jazz, a worthy tribute to Coltrane and a more than welcome addition to Liebman's extensive discography.
BOSTON POST GAZETTE
by Bob Morello
Saxophonist David Liebman succumbs to the inspirations of John Coltrane in his music. Teaming up with Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums, Liebman created a night’s repertoire of Coltrane’s blues, and ended up with a CD’s worth of music. Liebman arranged five lengthy tracks that shine from beginning to end. Opening with just under ten minutes worth of Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” climbing aboard the Coltrane train with the legend’s efforts that include, “Up Against the Wall,” the fast pace of “Mr. P.C.” and over fifteen minutes worth of “Village Blues.” The fitting tribute to Trane “Take the Coltrane” was penned by Duke Ellington and played brilliantly by the trio The blues of Trane —Liebman-ized!
LUCID CULTURE (on line)
This album – titled The Dave Liebman Trio Plays the Blues a la Trane – was in the can for awhile before Liebman might have said to himself, “Hey, why not release this?” And why not? He’s the rare artist who could probably get away with releasing pretty much everything he plays – which he may realize, because he’s pretty much been doing that lately. This set has the saxophone giant playing in a trio situation at a live date in Belgium in the spring of 2008 with Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums, an interestingly stripped-down configuration in light of Liebman’s recent, noteworthy big band work. The official story is that Liebman decided to go completely off program for this one and jam out on a series of blues by John Coltrane, or associated with him. It’s both fresh – especially for the rhythm section – and retro at the same time.
On tenor, Liebman wastes no time establishing a formidable attack, one rapidfire spiral after another on Miles Davis’ All Blues, following a late 50s Trane style, exploratory yet managing not to meander. The rhythm section quickly falls into place, Ineke with a loose, funky shuffle against Beets’ lean, fluid pulse that turns wintry and somewhat wry when it comes time for his solo toward the end. Throughout the album, they hold their places, leaving centerstage to Liebman aside from the occasional solo spot. Trane’s Up Against the Wall shuffles steadily along with a genial New Orleans swing: it’s the most straight-up number here. Mr. P.C. features a long, bright, sprightly bass solo (too low in the mix, as is the case all night, the one drawback with this album), Ineke taking a long, playful 3-on-2 solo. Liebman prowls around the minor blues scale or its edges, turning up the heat with the glissandos, but with restraint. A long, methodically crescendoing Village Blues – the one tune here with any real handoffs between the players – sees Liebman wrapping up his final soprano sax salvo unexpectedly – “OK, I’ve made my point, that’s all I’ve got to to say.” Ellington’s Take the Coltrane, tongue-in-cheek in its original version and just as jaunty here, opens with a bass solo and ends the set on an upbeat note. The album is best experienced in its entirety: as an unintended suite, it works strikingly well. It’s a must-own for Liebman fans, and Trane fans ought to enjoy this just as much, a worthwhile homage from one of the greats of this era to one from another.
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION (web based)
David Liebman is a true link to seminal jazz of the late fifties and early sixties. As a twelve-year- old student of the saxophone, he was drawn to the abstract structures of jazz. A native New Yorker, he frequented historic Greenwich Village clubs, including the Village Vanguard, Half Note and Birdland. It was there he witnessed, in awe, the genius of John Coltrane. After an initial foray into fusion, he was hired by the legendary Coltrane drummer, Elvin Jones. A four year tenure with Miles Davis augmented the learning curve. Following a world tour with Chic Corea in 1977, he formed the David Liebman Quartet, which included John Scofield. This ensemble recorded seven albums, and established the saxophonist as a prominent exponent of idiomatic jazz.
Always evolving as an artist, Liebman has recorded and played with musicians around the globe. His eminence on the soprano saxophone has garnered a staggering cache of recognition. Featured on over three hundred and fifty recordings, and attributed as composer of hundreds of compositions, this prolific musician has ascended to cultural prominence. His work ranges from avant-garde and bop to chamber music and fusion. He is the author of several books on music, and in 1989 founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Additionally, he covered the music of Kurt Weill and Alec Wilder, among many others.
During the Weill/Wilder tour, he decided to record a live album of quintessential Coltrane material. Even though he had previously released a Coltrane album (Homage To Coltrane) in 1987, the time was right for a live set. Inside a small club in Belgium, Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane became a reality. Emphasizing the blues inflected themes of Coltrane, Liebman has fashioned an improvisational coup. Without being derivative, the group emulates the spontaneity of live Coltrane. The opening track, “All Blues” (actually a Miles Davis piece from the iconic 1959 album, Kind Of Blue) explodes with the piercing wails on soprano saxophone that weave around the melody with dissonant flair. A cymbal-driven percussion (Eric Ineke) and fluent bass solo (Marius Beets) bring a resounding voice to this layered opus. “Take The Coltrane” (a Duke Ellington composition from the 1963 collaboration) is briskly nimble, and features a colorful tenor saxophone lead and crashing drums.
In between the aforementioned numbers, are three Coltrane original works.. Returning to soprano, Liebman shines on the fifteen minute “Village Blues”. As the trio establishes a relaxed tempo, the sax lines are melodic, yet strained to push standard boundaries. Both Ineke and Beets turn in well executed solos. Up tempo rhythm is handled on “Up Against The Wall” sketched by a bawdy tenor lead, as Liebman unleashes a torrent of fierce licks in step with his rhythm section. The trio has synthesized the blues aesthetic into a highly intricate context.
The tone of the recording captures the acoustic intimacy of the venue. With straightforward earnestness, Lieb Plays Blues A La Trane, establishes David Liebman as the standard bearer of bebop.
AMAZING-We3 with Adam Nussbaum (drums); Steve Swallow (bass); Dave Liebman (saxophones) - Kind Of Blue Records
By John Ephland
There’s something slightly different hearing Steve Swallow’s electric bass as it fills the air of this oft times quiet and gentle album of trio jazz. It’s conventional jazz but with an attitude of nothing to prove, nowhere to go necessarily, something three friends I (who’ve made music together for over three decades) might play just because they like to play, and play with each other.
Except for Cole Porter’s “Get Out Of Town,” it’s all original material, everyone getting into the act and everyone getting room to blow. And blow, especially, is what Dave Liebman does here. Amazing being a great showcase for his versatility on not only his acclaimed soprano and tenor saxes but his playing in a C and wooden Indian flutes. Swallow’s gentle, wooly electric bass seeps into everything here, while Adam Nussbaum’s drumming is impeccably recorded and played, his approaches delicate and popping, not to mention highly syncopated with skins and cymbals alike glistening.
The jazz feel kicks in with Swallow’s waltz “remember,” followed by his ballad title track; Liebman sticks to soprano on both, his swinging followed by another example of his ease with Swallow’s pretty melody. Another Swallow original, the perky swinger “In F,” features Nussbaum’s great technique with brushes. “In F,” based on the chords of Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” is one of those free-floaters that swings with no anchor, Liebman’s beefy tenor swimming in and around Swallow’s high-flying bass lines. “Free Ballad #1” sounds free in a more subtle sense—what melody line there is sounds a bit structured amidst the open form. It’s slightly eerie.
Nussbaum’s “My Maia” (the longest cut here) is a basic medium-tempo swing waltz (alternating between 6 and 5) that lets We3 just hang out. Liebman’s fire is on display, alongside some more soloing from Nussbaum, this tune showcasing his stick work. It’s on a tune like “My Maia” that you can get a sense for how these three musicians feel about playing with each other: the simple melody and basic progression keeps things pretty open for three different musical personalities to inhabit. No surprises, but also no pretentious virtuosity to distract you from your basic jazz jazz conversation. “Get Out Of Town”—featuring Liebman on flute, some chatty bass from Swallow and a sultry, slow tempo—is played true to form.
The rest of the album follows a similar trajectory. Their “chordless trio” approach, while not groundbreaking, is one that’s always welcome. Especially between friends.
By John Fordham
The American sax virtuoso Dave Liebman is a master who does not disguise his Coltrane inspirations, but he has rarely paraded such a wealth of saxophone homages (consciously or not) as he does here. It sounds as if the gauzy willfulness of Lee Konitz or Warne Marsh, the romanticism of Stan Getz and the rumbustiousness of Sonny Rollins have all crossed his radar over the years. This trio set features bass guitarist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum – a chordless group in which counterpoint with the daintily inexorable Swallow is key. On soprano, Liebman sounds old-fashioned and clarinet-like in the opening tune, one of four laconically graceful Swallow melodies. The vaporous Getz sigh comes in during a group-improvised ballad; Nussbaum's My Maia has a broodingly Coltranesque slow theme; Swallow's Bend Over Backwards sounds like The Pink Panther played by a tunefully braying donkey; and on the drummer's stealthy blues, Sure Would Baby, Liebman's whistling line sounds like an Andean panpiper playing blues. Maybe it's for jazz purists, but it's a delight.
Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazz Werkstatt-Germany)-Jazz Record of the Year-2010-German Jazz Journalists
THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
By PETER HUM
This disc’s pairing of musician and material is instantly intriguing. Ornette Coleman was the father of free-jazz who never met a set of chords he couldn’t disregard. But here he is, interpreted by veteran saxophonist Dave Liebman, one of jazz’s ultra-harmonic thinkers.
The seeming incongruity is not lost on Liebman, who wrote in the liner notes: “In general his (Coleman’s) music has not had as much an influence upon me as others from my generation. This is primarily due to the relatively minor role that harmony plays in his music, or shall I say intentional-direct harmony ... Nonetheless I do admire his seemingly never-ending repository of lyrical melodies, most of which do just fine with little or no direct harmony. Over the years, it intrigued me to imagine what would happen if I ‘loaned’ harmony to some of the more likely material and arranged the freer music to fit my long-standing group of 20 years.”
The Pennsylvania-based Liebman pulls almost exclusively from Coleman’s early work circa 1959-61 for the melodies that most appealed to him.
Turnaround features two distinct grooves, powered by drummer Marko Marcinko, who is constantly engaged in the act of grooving. Over that, Liebman and guitarist Vic Juris float the melody, and slowly the tune transforms into backbeat blues that reminds us that Coleman was from Texas, after all.
Among the other transformations, Lonely Woman has been remade as an evocative, cross-cultural soundscape, with Liebman on wooden flute and Juris deftly deploying a range of electronic effects. The ballad Kathelin Gray — the most recent Coleman composition on the disc — has been given new changes and features Juris on acoustic guitar. It sounds awfully orthodox for a Coleman composition. For those who find that track overly smooth, the raucous rendition of Cross Breeding — all soprano saxophone squeals, skronk guitar, rumbling bass and roiling drums — will be an antidote.
Una Muy Bonita, the only track arranged by Juris, begins with guitar strumming and a Latin groove. Soon the band is freebopping behind Liebman’s tenor, and then swinging at a faster tempo behind Juris.
Unless you’re offended by this much deliberation brought to bear on Coleman’s music, the disc is a potent and provocative example of a top-notch working band applying itself to material that after so many decades is arguably as much a part of the canon as compositions by Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter or John Coltrane, and equally subject to arrangement. The structuring that Liebman has done girds some great, freely executed music, and you can’t help but be struck by the Liebman group’s superlative band feeling.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Dan McClenaghan
2010 has been a busy year for Dave Liebman, though not always one in which the saxophonist sits in the featured chair: he is the horn man on Contact's highly collaborative Five in One (Pirouet Records, 2010), a superb all-star outing; sits in on half of rising star Bobby Avey's A New Face (Jay Dell Records, 2010); and stars as the featured soloist on Live/As Always (Mamma Records, 2010), with his Dave Liebman Big Band.
Liebman explores the classic music of the alto saxophonist and free jazz pioneer with Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman.
Liebman is no stranger to the freer end of the jazz spectrum, having played with Miles Davis in the early seventies on the groundbreaking On the Corner (Columbia, 1972) and Dark Magus (Columbia, 1974), but his music of late has been closer to what might be described as a very adventurous forward-tilted mainstream. He also uses a much broader harmonic palette than Coleman does. So an immersion into the highly melodic Ornette Coleman sound allows Liebman the opportunity the paint some broad sweeps of harmonic color over, under and around the altoist's' frameworks. The results are superb.
Liebman employs his longstanding quartet on the outing--bassist Tony Marino, drummer Marko Marcinko and guitarist Vic Juris. The group's approach is highly collaborative, a testament to two decades of playing together; as cohesive and responsive as any ensemble--four vibrant, freewheeling risk takers.
The music Liebman has chosen to cover is from Coleman's ear-opening beginnings in the late fifties and early sixties, starting with “Enfant,” heard first on Ornette on Tenor (Atlantic Records, 1962). Liebman's group gives the tune a brisk momentum and relaxed group lubrication. Liebman is on tenor, sounding gruff and growly, and Juris supplies an electric shine with his ringing chords immersed in a floating bass drum rhythm.
“Turnaround,” first heard on Tomorrow is the Question (Contemporary, 1959), and again on the brilliant Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar, 2006), sings and sways in front of Marcinko's rattle and pop drum work; and perhaps Coleman's most famous tune, “Lonely Woman,” from his burst-to-prominence The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic Records, 1959), is given a complete makeover: slowed to a religious solemnity, with Liebman on wood flute, blowing cool over Juris' metallic, monastery harmonics.
The leader, who has concentrated mainly on the soprano saxophone these past few years, employs his tenor saxophone on a good percentage of the set, with a sound that is always robust, supremely confident and sometimes downright wild and woolly.
Liebman has never risen to the highest levels of jazz stardom, but seems too busy making music to worry about profile or career moves. Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman should shine a very bright and well-deserved light on the veteran artist and his magnificent quartet.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Ken Waxman
Ornette Coleman is the modern jazzman closest to country blues. Yet Liebman, who specializes in harmonic development, chooses to emphasize Coleman's melodies on Turnaround. The reading evolves in blocks as opposed to treating Coleman's compositions as organic wholes; Juris' strategies add to this concept. The treatment of "Kathelin Gray," for instance, is gentle and straightforward, close to a Broadway ballad, with Liebman contributing a ravishing obbligato. "Una Muy Bonita" is given a Latin tinge with slick, resonating licks and wide strums from Juris, clavé pops and rolls from Marcinko and a double-time saxophone solo. Although Liebman produces multiphonics from his wooden flute on "Lonely Woman," the tune's romanticism is emphasized, especially when reflective slurred fingering and reverb from the guitarist parallels Liebman's narrative. "Face of the Bass/Beauty is a Rare Thing" manages to advance the first theme—initially triple-stopped by Marino—with bell-shaking and snare pops plus harsh strumming. The second tune is notable for Liebman's flutter-tonguing and trilling lows plus near baroque-licks from Juris, with cymbal sizzles marking the finale.
The Dave Liebman Group, Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt). One of the most unusual and creative jazz tribute discs I've ever heard. "Turnaround" is the one Ornette Coleman composition that almost everyone plays -- a funky, snaky blues that, until its bridge, seems to be a kissing cousin of Horace Silver. No one's ever played it before the way saxophonist Dave Liebman and his quartet do -- over a Latin rhythm that turns it into a kind of abstractionist's lament. On the other hand, listen to Coleman's equally famous and genuinely lamenting "Lonely Woman" -- one of the most beautiful and unusual tunes to come out of jazz in its time -- and the lost in space electronics of Liebman's wooden flute version seem even farther removed from the usual treatment than that version of "Turnaround." It's as if some Celtic shepherd were playing on an interplanetary jaunt. Liebman's guitarist here is Vic Juris, his bassist is Tony Marino and his drummer is Marko Marcinko, but the total freshness of conception in this disc is all Liebman. It was recorded in January 2009 and was available on MP3 earlier in the year. It's one of the great jazz discs of 2010. 4 stars (Jeff Simon)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by John Kelman
When listening to Ornette Coleman's music from the fertile period of his 1959-1961 Atlantic albums—beautifully documented on the aptly titled Beauty is a Rare Thing (Rhino, 1993) box set—it's perhaps a little difficult to understand what all the hubbub was about. As is so often the case, time turns naysayers into champions, and many of the people who were so vehemently opposed to Coleman's forays into the realm of free jazz are now amongst those celebrating him for the innovator he's always been. Coleman's writing from that time, his linear, largely non-chordal approach no longer feels difficult to digest. Time, in fact, has proven many of Coleman's compositions to be memorable for their compelling melodies, a fact not lost on saxophonist Dave Liebman and his group on Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman.
That Liebman has chosen material largely from that two-year watershed is no surprise. Coleman wrote so many memorable themes at that time, especially the particularly haunting melody of "Lonely Woman"—played atmospherically here, with guitaristVic Juris creating a wash of sound built from copious delay, reverb and other effects, while bassist Tony Marino's arco flesh out the pedal tone that supports Liebman's delicate wooden flute. With drummer Marko Marcinko gradually shifting from percussion to more turbulent kit work, the song ebbs and flows over the course of nearly seven minutes; remarkable, also, for its overall feel of "nobody soloing and everybody soloing" and some rich changes that Liebman's arrangement injects, in spots, to create an unfolding sense of tension and release.
It's the use of sophisticated harmony, in fact, that differentiates Liebman from Coleman—and, admittedly by Liebman, the reason why the free jazz icon had relatively little effect on his career. Liebman—splitting most of his time between soprano and tenor saxophones—respects the linearity of quirky tunes like "Cross Breeding" with Juris largely doubling the saxophonist's melody before everyone enters into a freer trajectory. But he also finds ways to apply his own passion for harmony. The one track not from the Atlantic years—"Kathelin Gray" (first heard on Pat Metheny's collaboration with Coleman, the career-definingSong X, reissued in expanded form by Nonesuch in 2005)—not only sports a new set of changes, but an acoustic guitar intro from Juris that, yet again, begs the question why he's not better known outside of musician circles.
If Juris and Liebman are the shining personalities in this group that they've always been, it's Marino who turns in, quite possibly, the performance of a lifetime. Always a firm yet pliant anchor alongside the equally flexible Marcinko, the bassist's opening salvo on the medley of the tribal "Face of the Bass" and unsurprisingly lyrical "Beauty is a Rare Thing" is a standout, as is the more driving "Una Muy Bonita," where Juris' strummed acoustic provides a distinctly un-Ornette backdrop for the bassist's lithe melodism.
It's one thing to pay tribute; another to turn the source material into one's own. Liebman and his group do just that onTurnaround, demonstrating that inspiration needn't mean imitation.
by Doug Simpson
On Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman, saxophonist Dave Liebman turns to Ornette Coleman’s music for inspiration and the results are adventurous, imaginative and intense. Liebman is no stranger to tributes. In 1981 he participated in a Charles Mingus memorial release. In 1987 he collaborated with Wayne Shorter on a John Coltrane homage, in 1991 there was a commemorative album for Chet Baker and there has been more than record to honor Liebman’s former employer, Miles Davis.
Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman may surprise Liebman fans. Liebman mentions in his liner notes he likes and respects Coleman. “But in general,” he explains, “his music has not had as much an influence upon me as others from my generation.” However, he admires Coleman’s lyrical melodies and decided to discover what would happen if he introduced harmonic elements into some of Coleman’s typically non-harmonic material and arranged the music to fit Liebman’s long-standing quartet. The outcome is an hour-long repertoire project – i.e., no Liebman originals – that shines a new light on Coleman’s compositions. For the most part, Liebman focuses on Coleman’s prolific 1959-1961 era. Only the lyrical “Kathelin Gray” derives from another period.
Liebman – who on this venture plays tenor and soprano saxophone and wooden flute – gets great support from the quartet he formed in 1991. Liebman, guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko begin with “Enfant,” fromOrnette on Tenor (1962). The band provides a sharp mobility with Liebman’s tenor sometimes echoing Coleman’s spiraling lines and curt soulfulness while Juris contributes resonating chords on electric guitar. Marcinko, meanwhile, presents a buoyant rhythm that neatly glides and ascends.
The title track is the one of Coleman’s many blues-tinted creations, and here everyone puts their stamp on the twisting blues theme. Listeners should pay attention to Marino and Marcinko’s interplay and the communication between Liebman’s sax and Juris’ ambient guitar. The best part is hearing how the ensemble takes this tune into undiscovered territory which includes a Latinized cadence which eventually morphs into a cerebral exclamation. This is blues with a unique grammar.
Coleman fans have their favorites. But the list usually contains the lyrical “Lonely Woman,” a haunting classic that has stood the test of time. The foursome magnifies the piece’s atmospheric core, with Liebman leading on his delicate wooden flute. Underneath, Marino supplements the track’s suffusion with sepia-sparkled arco hues as Juris fashions an aqua layer of delay, reverb and related pedal effects, and Marcinko slowly shifts from soft percussion to restless drums.
“Kathelin Gray” emanates from the 1985 Coleman/Pat Metheny undertaking Song X. Here, the cut is stripped to essentials and is organized with several different changes and boasts acoustic guitar which proves Juris should be better known. Marino secures an impressive spotlight during the medley, “Face of the Bass/Beauty Is a Rare Thing.” The extended bass solo opening is a tour de force that is articulate, flowing and heated. “Beauty Is a Rare Thing” is another well-liked Coleman piece where Liebman again turns to flute and Juris to acoustic guitar to retain the track’s melancholy quality.
Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman is superb for both Coleman and Liebman fans. Coleman’s spirit bursts through and Liebman shows serious virtuosity as well as interpretive skills. Maybe it’s time someone stands up to give Liebman his due and produces a Liebman tribute. It’s overdue.
Quest - Redial: Live In Hamburg
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by John Kelman
The new millennium seems to be a time when groups are reuniting, sometimes to even greater acclaim than they achieved the first time around. It's also a time when aging jazz musicians are lighting a fire under their own careers, ramping up their output and broadening their reach. Saxophonist Dave Liebman's activity in the past year has been almost beyond belief, closing in on a dozen as a leader and co-leader, as well as a couple of important reissues. One significant re-release is Searching for the Next Sound of Be-Bop (Storyville, 2010), bringing three important albums back into print, including the first two discs by Quest--once it arrived at a consistent lineup with its second release, Quest II (Storyville, 1986)--andDouble Edge (Storyville, 1985), a tremendous duo record from Liebman and Quest-mate/pianist Richie Beirach, which further solidifies the language and mitochondrial connection these two have shared, dating back to the 1970s and other groups, including Lookout Farm and Pendulum.
The often-recorded Beirach composition that named Pendulum--recently collected on the exhilarating Pendulum Live at the Village Vanguard (Mosaic, 2008)--makes an appearance on Quest's Re-Dial: Live in Hamburg, recorded at two shows in the fall of 2007, and only goes to show how far the language shared by Liebman, Beirach, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Harthas evolved. Its modal core and recognizable melody are mere starting points for a version far more fluid and free than ever before, as Hart and McClure create constantly shifting, tumultuous waves of color, even as they somehow manage to retain its swinging undercurrent. There may be delineated solos--first Liebman, followed by Beirach, McClure and Hart--but the level of interaction is so deep--with Beirach pushing and pulling Liebman during his tenor solo--that the saxophonist pauses more than once, feeling where the rest of the group is taking him. Everything is less than obvious, and always more than it seems.
Another Beirach tune, the title track to his solo outing Continuum (East Wind, 1983), is a dark-hued tone poem, while his closing “Hermitage,” first heard on his duo record with violinist Gregor Huebner, Duality (Niveau, 2007), is amongst Quest's most flat-out beautiful tunes, Liebman's soaring soprano wrapping around Beirach's dense voicings with surprising gentility.
Liebman contributes “Standoff,” a brooding cousin to “Continuum” whose moody lyricism sharply contrasts the title track which follows, where the saxophonist's opening soprano solo runs the gamut from oblique post-bop to screeching multiphonics, leading to the gradual emergence of an incendiary pulse that drives one of Beirach's most extreme solos of the set. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is a dark-hued tone poem, setting the mood for John Coltrane's “Brazilla,” opening with a lengthy drum solo from which a high energy, high density and viscerally charged collective storm emerges, showing just how far the late saxophone giant's vision has come, since his death over forty years ago.
Too late for consideration in 2010 “Best Of” lists, Quest's DNA-level telepathy makes the unfettered fire and sublime beauty ofRe-Dial: Live in Hamburg an early contender for 2011.
Quest For Freedom-Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach with the HR Big Band arranged by Jim McNeely (Sunnyside Records)
ALL MUSIC GUIDE
By Ken Dryden
Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach made a number of important recordings together in small groups (Quest and Pendulum) and as a duo during the 1970s and 1980s, but for these 2009 sessions, they are guest soloists with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, arranged and conducted by Jim McNeely. Beirach's dark, brisk "Pendulum" proves to be a powerful opener, with thrilling solos by the tenor saxophonist and the composer, plus a wild, freewheeling feature for Liebman on soprano sax. Liebman's "Vendetta" is a haunting melody; Beirach opens it alone and is soon joined by Liebman, with the reeds and brass providing background colors later. There is no mistaking the inspiration for Liebman's "WTC." He introduces it alone on his piercing, emotional wood flute, with Beirach gradually adding dark chords. As the composer switches to soprano, one can feel the anguish of September 11, 2001, with rumbling percussion and sporadic bursts from the brass and reeds. McNeely contributed "The Sky Is the Limit," an extended work that proves to be another strong showcase for Liebman and Beirach. This is yet another memorable chapter in the considerable joint discography of Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By John Kelman
From the opening of pianist Richie Beirach's"Pendulum"—the title track to the 1978 Artists House album of the same name, more recently collected into a staggering three-disc box set that expands on the original album's four tracks by including the entire set of recordings made at New York's legendary Village Vanguard on Mosaic Select 32: Pendulum Live at the Village Vanguard(Mosaic, 2008)—it's clear that Quest for Freedom may be also be a big band album, but that definition is just about all it shares with Live / As Always. It's not just that it's a different big band either. Instead, it's the immediacy of Beirach's intro, building from a trade-off between upper and lower registers to a more compact set of voicings that set the tone for an album that, when it swings, swings much harder and, with the incredible telepathy shared by the pianist and Liebman, is driven to greater heights of power and exhilarating electricity.
In the hands of arranger Jim McNeely, the HR Big Band is hardly your grandfather's big band. Instead, McNeely takes maximum advantage of the ensemble's sonic potential, turning Liebman's solo on "Pendulum" into a visceral trade-off with what seems to be the entire brass section, swooping and swirling in response to his similarly expansive, post-bop lines. A sudden stop, and a duo with Beirach—rather than taking things down—actually succeeds in turning the heat up further, leading, with a seemingly relentless series of descending chords, back into a full-band section, with McNeely cuing the horn section so intuitively as to make this an early album climax that might seem hard to match...but is, time and again.
It's no surprise, then, that "Pendulum" comes from a live recording in Frankfurt, from which the set closer, the equally incendiary "The Sky is the Limit," is also culled. What's surprising, however, is that this is not a tune from either the Liebman or Beirach songbook. Instead, this comes from McNeely's pen—along with "Pendulum" the only other non-Liebman track—and, proves just how in tune the arranger is with the combination of Liebman's inherent, post-bop expressionism and Beirach's distinctive blend of jazz harmonies with the classical language of more outward-thinking composers who spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, an approach that's resulted in the pianist's nickname, "The Code." Where "The Sky is the Limit" differs, however, is its greater compositional complexity, "Pendulum," at its core, a relative sketch of a piece that McNeely astutely expands for this large ensemble. Instead, "The Sky" covers a wide swatch of tempos and grooves, with the horns moving from vivid counterpoint to rich harmonies in support of an early solo from Liebman that's not surprising in its depth of invention, but is in its ability to feel like far more than the more common cathartic outpouring of players who lack the Liebman's ability to think long-form, and structure his solos so that they combine powerful emotion with a remarkable narrative sense.
Beirach, too, possesses this rare ability to think in grander terms without losing the focus required to make a solo breathe—feeling like spontaneous composition rather than a series of random ideas loosely drawn together—with his solo on the balladic "Port Ligal" an example of more subdued invention. He's also a brilliant context-setter, with his opening to Liebman's equally subdued "Vendetta" a dark portent of his duo with the saxophonist, where their shared instincts allow them to be pliant with time, before a reduced version of the big band enters for a largely through-composed piece that only features a brief soprano solo at its end.
The two powerhouse live tracks contrast sharply with the five arrangements of Liebman tunes—recorded in a Frankfurt studio—that bookend the disc. Largely darker, more softly colored and understated in tone, these tunes wrap equally around the album's centerpiece, Liebman's haunting "WTC" (three on either side), giving the album its very specific and unique arc. The only track not arranged by McNeely (instead, by Heiner Schmidt), "WTC" is an imaginative expansion of what originated as a duo piece for piano and saxophone on Liebman's 2002 collaboration with Marc Copland, Bookends (HATology, 2002). Here, however, Copland's softer impressionism is replaced by Beirach's greater immediacy...and intrinsic energy. Beginning with Liebman's wooden flute before moving to soprano, it's a stunning and disturbing evocation of the events of September 11, 2001, made all the more vivid with HR's broader palette. It's no coincidence that it forms the album's centerpiece, as the mood of the album gradually reflects its title and finds its way to the greater optimism of Liebman's "En Fin" and, finally, McNeely's buoyant but still knotty and, at times, oblique "The Sky is the Limit."
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Raul D'Gama Rose
Quest for Freedom—featuring soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach, and the arrangements of Jim McNeely, and performed with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band—contains some of the most vivid music on record. Almost all of this has to do with three factors: Liebman and Beirach's ingenious compositions and stunning performances; McNeely's intuitive arrangements; and the sublime readings by the members of the entire ensemble. The album is as large as life—pensive and brooding, full of the depth and breadth of musical history and the sheer joy of making harmonious sound that reflects a similarly sheer joy of living. Moreover, whoever picked the charts that were scored and performed—something that has not been indicated—has a great propensity for understanding what moves the sound of life itself, as it canters and gallops into the future, encountering many calamities, enjoining new relationships, explaining the abstract, and emerging triumphantly from adversity.
All this from an album that lasts a mere seventy-five minutes and change. The beauty of the album is ensconced in the sweeping creativity of Beirach's pianism, which rushes like an enchanted brook jostling and swerving around the sharply angled geography of Liebman's high and mighty abstractions that shoot like quantum packets of energy from his straight horn. Both their phrases and lines are like nature's green whorls forever entwined around the music that shoots from the earth like great monolithic trunks of trees; music so natural and so earthy that life would seem desolate without its redeeming fire.
Beirach's playing is almost diametrically opposed to Liebman's. The former's sense of the heart of the melodic center pulsates and gives rise to majestic harmonies that spring eternal from the soul of the song. Each time Beirach plays, he seems to emerge organically from the song's center, like a breath of fire that becomes a mythic wind racing hot and searching as it revitalizes the melody and rhythm within. Liebman, on the other hand emerges from the melody to enunciate his solo like myriad harmonic tentacles filling spaces in the sonic landscape as if consuming them and leaving imaginary crystal necklaces in its wake. Liebman is also darting, and probes these spaces as if each were a cave never explored before. His abstract jabs and meandering flourishes always land on the soul of the song decorating it with magnificent new and elastic sounds.
"Pendulum" is a stupendous beginning to the set, played live and almost breathlessly and it also features a mighty tenor saxophone solo from Tony Lakatos. "Jung" is subtle and wildly imaginative. "Vendetta" is svelte and sharp, but it is the breathtaking beauty and tragic sounds of "WTC" that are the most startling on the album. Liebman's music here is tragic and brooding as it explores the metaphysics of death. The pathos of the song is staggering. The drama of this song as well as McNeely's "The Sky is the Limit" makes this one of the year's finest albums.
THE NEW SOUND OF BEBOP-QUEST (STORYVILLE RECORDS-re-release)
All Music Guide
By Ken Dryden
Quest, featuring soprano saxophonist David Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach plus a rhythm section, was active as a group between 1981 and 1991, though the bulk of their recording activity took place during the last five years of the band's existence. This two-CD set compiles all of three separate albums, including Quest II, Quest III: Midpoint/Double Edge (a duo CD by Liebman and Beirach), with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart ably assisting on the first two sessions. The six tracks from Quest II, recorded in the studio, open the first disc. Beirach's "Gargoyles" is pensive with an unpredictable path, never relenting from its brooding, mysterious setting. His "Pendulum" is a daunting modal work fired by Hart's explosive drumming and Liebman's searing soprano. Liebman's eerie ballad "Carrisma" and intense "Third Visit" provoke some of the quartet's best performances. Midpoint was recorded in concert over two nights in 1987 at the Montmartre in Copenhagen. The music encompasses compositions by each member of the quartet. Liebman's "The Code's Secretcode" is an extended work with progressively different sections, taking the listener on a delightful journey. Beirach's "The Snow Leopard" begins with a rapidly darting post-bop theme, and segues into avant-garde which leads into a dramatic feature for Hart. plus a recap of the theme. McClure's "Midpoint" is a showcase for the bassist, playing its moody theme with soft backing from Beirach, with Hart's later brushwork and Liebman's haunting soprano rounding it out. Hart's turbulent "Redemption" proves to be a very satisfying finale.
The duo selections are all familiar songs, though Liebman and Beirach present them with novel interpretations. Choosing two John Coltrane works, they detour quickly from the familiar theme of "Naima," giving it a more plaintive air, while Beirach's strumming and picking of the piano strings adds a surprising introduction to their driving, dramatic rendition of "India." Sandwiched between them is a searing performance of "'Round Midnight" that is far from the usual deliberate, spacious arrangement of this frequently recorded jazz standard. Their setting of "On Green Dolphin Street" sticks to a straight-ahead path instead of the familiar changes throughout each chorus. Beirach's interpretation of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" can't help but be influenced by Bill Evans' famous recording, with Liebman making a delayed entrance, adding a bit of mystery with his offbeat flute. There are plenty of fireworks and a darting run through Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," where the musicians never get around to its theme until the conclusion.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Joel Roberts
Twenty five years ago, one of the era’s most arresting groups was Quest. Growing out of the partnership between Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach, Quest played a brand of Coltrane-inspired jazz that was ethereal one moment, funky the next. Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop is a two-disc compilation that includes two Quest albums, Quest II from 1986 and Midpoint, a live recording from 1987, along with Double Edge, a duo session of standards Liebman and Beirach made in 1985.
Nearly all the tunes the group performed were penned by Liebman and Beirach, including the modal number “Pendulum”, the spacey “Carissima” and the furiously paced “Third Visit”. The live recording yields tunes that are even more frenetic and complex, including “The Code’s Secret Code” and “The Snow Leopard”. Throughout these sides, what stands out is the intense interplay between Beirach and Liebman, who was then playing soprano sax nearly exclusively along with flute on occasion.
That intensity is felt even more on the duo tracks, as the pianist and saxophonist radically reinvent tunes by Coltrane, Monk, Sonny Rollins and others. Most memorable of these are a particularly emotional exploration of Monk’s “Round Midnight” by Beirach
and a rapid-fire, free jazz treatment of Rollins’ “Oleo”.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by JOHN KELMAN
There are groups that become legends in their own time and others that only gain momentum after their time has come and gone. Quest was by no means unsuccessful during its ten-year run beginning with its self-titled, Japan-only, 1981 debut, but the quartet's reputation has grown considerably in the two decades since its swan song, Of One Mind (CMP, 1990). As key as each member of the quartet was, it remains the collective language of Quest's two principal writers (saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richard Beirach) that defined Quest's sound—an acoustic evolution over their 1970s group Lookout Farm, which, unlike its higher volume, higher octane counterparts, remained an unapologetic jazz band, albeit one which explored a post-saxophonist John Coltrane landscape through a prism personally crafted of funk, Indian and 20th century classical musics.
Throughout the collective two-decade lifespan of Lookout Farm and Quest, Liebman and Beirach also made some fine duo discs, including the sadly in need of reissue gem, Forgotten Fantasies (A&M/Horizon, 1975). Recent years have seen Quest reform for a European tour, documented on the stellar Redemption—Quest Live in Europe (HATology, 2007), while the three-disc Mosaic Select 12: David Liebman & Richie Beirach (Mosaic, 2004) collected live recordings from both groups and the Liebman/Beirach duo at San Francisco's Keystone Korner, and Mosaic Select 32: Pendulum Live at the Village Vanguard (Mosaic, 2008) provided a more complete glimpse into an incendiary, pre-Quest quintet that augured, in many ways, what was to come just a few short years later.
But the original Quest discs have remained largely hard to come by, commanding outrageous prices on eBay and through Amazon's Marketplace resellers, making Storyville's Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop a thoroughly welcome event that caps a year of almost unprecedented activity from a saxophonist who, not including this double-disc set, is fast approaching an aggregate of ten new and/or reissued releases. Searching brings Quest's second and third albums back into print—Quest II (Storyville, 1986) and Midpoint (Storyville, 1987)—fleshing each album out by spreading the Liebman/Beirach duo set, Double Edge (Storyville, 1985), across the two discs, making this a generous, 144-minute collection of music that not only bears revisiting a quarter century later for reasons of pure, unadulterated enjoyment, but for the bright light it shines on an unmistakable language honed, in collaboration with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart, by Liebman and Beirach in one of the longest lasting musical relationships in modern jazz.
While Quest II came five years after Quest's Breaktime label debut, it was the first to feature what would become the quartet's stable and enduring line-up. From the opening notes of Beirach's brooding "Gargoyles," it's clear that this is a language as informed by 20th century classicism as it is an evolutionary expansion of the post-bop aesthetic, particularly refreshing given its emergence at a time when young lions were bringing a woeful new conservatism back to jazz. With time a flexible, pliant thing, Liebman's soprano soars over Beirach's impressionistic voicings, McClure's deep-toned mix of harmonic anchor and contrapuntal foil, and Hart's textural brush work. A rapidly accelerating melody dissolves into freedom that continues to expand, seemingly filling a vacuum, only to suddenly resolve into a slow but relentlessly propulsive pedal point that creates a context for the first of many stunning solos from Liebman. At this time, Liebman had retired his tenor, opting to build on a more personal soprano sound that continues to be both inimitable and influential to this day, but it's the convergence of the four participants in Quest that made it possible for Liebman to reach the heights he does here and throughout the two Quest sets collected on Searching.
But lest anyone think this is going to be all implication and European classicism, Beirach's "Pendulum"—a tune the pianist has revisited time and again, as far back as his own desperately in need of reissue trio date Elm (ECM, 1979), and as recently as his just-released big band collaboration with Liebman, Quest for Freedom (Sunnyside, 2010)—comes charging out of the gate, another exercise in advanced modality but in a far more sophisticated manner than that explored by the duo's early model, Coltrane and pianist McCoy Tyner. With Hart and McClure swinging hard and heavy—but with a kind of loose freedom that makes the whole thing feel like a house of cards that, strong as it is, could dissolve at any second—Liebman and Beirach orbit in and around each other, alternatively taking the front position and driving each other to climax after climax of ascendant power. There are few groups in the past quarter century who have the ability to sound this reverent to the tradition while, at the same time, never feeling stuck in it. Unlike the neocon music that was everywhere at the time, "polite" was a word that could never be used to describe Quest.
Central to Quest's visceral innovation was Beirach's blend of Tyner-esque modality and an upbringing that imbued his playing and writing with the advanced language of late-19th and early 20th century classical composition. Equally fundamental, and in some ways antithetical to Beirach's sophisticated harmonic ambiguity—a language that resulted in Keystone Korner's Todd Barkan dubbing the pianist "The Code"—has been Liebman's oft-cited expressionism. Comparisons are often made between Liebman and an undeniable primary influence, Coltrane, but while Liebman has always been capable of the same stunning virtuosity that led to Coltrane's legendary "sheets of sound"—wave after relentless wave of rising and cascading notes—the younger saxophonist has never been anything but his own man, with a soprano tone both warmer and more eminently visceral than Coltrane's nasally, Indo-centric tone, and a solo approach far more imbued with a narrative-like sense of construction and a willingness to let space be, at times, an equal partner. It's hard to imagine Coltrane approaching a song like Liebman's dark ballad, "Carissima," with the same spare economy, or even the younger saxophonist's almost impossibly up-tempo "Third Visit," where an incendiary but still somehow measured duo between Hart and Liebman shows just how distanced the two are from the unbridled exchanges between Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones.
While Quest II focused exclusively on Beirach and Liebman's writing, Midpoint also includes one contribution each from McClure and Hart, as if to clarify the group's egalitarian nature—as if one listen isn't enough to dispel any thoughts to the contrary. If Liebman and Beirach defined the linguistic structure of the group through their predominance on the compositional front, McClure's title track, with a context-setting opening solo from Beirach, makes clear that he speaks the same language, on a moody ballad with the same kind of dark ambiguity, and a bass solo that, much as his performance across this set, raises many questions as to why he's a lesser-known entity than his band mates. Hart may be the most-recorded of Quest's players, but his recordings as a leader are few and far between, with his most recent, Quartet (HighNote, 2006), now more than four years old. But what he lacks in compositional prolificacy he makes up for in depth, his set closing "Redemption" a turbulent maelstrom of activity, with a sketch of a head that, nevertheless, is more than enough to encourage this empathic quartet to launch itself into the stratosphere.
The hour-long set also revisits another Liebman favorite, "Pablo's Story," first heard on Lookout Farm's 1974 self-titled ECM debut, but here delivered more directly than Lookout Farm's percussion-heavy version while explored at even greater length. Paradoxically, the only track from Quest II is that album's shortest track, Liebman's "The Hollow Men," here delivered in an even shorter version, not even reaching the four-minute mark—more a tone poem that acts as a palate cleanser between the driving "Pablo's Story" and free-wheeling "Redemption."
The inclusion of Double Edge might seem odd—a duo set, rather than a Quest disc, and with a set of nothing but covers and not a single original to be found—but its seven tracks set the stage for the piercing originality of Quest's in-house writing. The title of this collection says it all: Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop, and while Liebman and Beirach tackle a seemingly conservative set of standards ranging from "On Green Dolphin Street" and Sonny Rollins' enduring "Oleo" to Thelonious Monk's perhaps overused but, in these hands, never abused "'Round Midnight" and Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time," it's the time, indeed, when this set was first released that makes it so notable. In 1985, the young lions were returning to greater convention, and the difference between their well-played but largely backward-looking view of the tradition and this duo's forward-reaching exploration of the infinite possibilities of even the most overplayed music can be brought into even sharper focus now, a quarter century later. There's nothing tired about the way this duo rips through a miniature version of "Oleo," or its more luxurious walk through "'Round Midnight," and the disparity between Liebman's spiritual mentor and his own playing couldn't be more obvious in the dark-hued version of Coltrane's "Naima," or a more fervent but harmonically denser version of his equally enduring "India."
If the two Quest sets are the big draws here, Double Edge proves that Liebman and Beirach's language could be placed into any context. At the time, the songs on Double Edge would have been more familiar, though 25 years later, the fans who have been eagerly anticipating this reissue may well be equally intimate with Liebman and Beirach's own music. Whether it's interpreting standards or exploring the true future of be-bop with music that not only sounded fresh and modern then, it remains that way today, Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop is an apt title, but only to a certain point. A few minutes of this outstanding and welcome reissue are all that's needed to hear that the members of Quest had not only found the sound they were searching for, but were continuing to fight the good fight of pushing it ever-forward...something that they all continue doing to this day, both inside and outside the purview of this fine and now clearly groundbreaking quartet.
by Mike Shanley
Following his early work with Elvin Jones' post-Coltrane groups and Miles Davis Dave Liebman became a prolific leader whose approach to the soprano saxophone stands apart from other straight horn giants like Wayne Shorter and the late Steve Lacy. Few musicians have experienced as lengthy and productive a partnership as that of Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach. In addition to performing as a duo, they formed the quartet Quest in 1981, solidifying the lineup a few years later with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart. Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop is a rather glib title. Liebman and Beirach earned their musical wings following John Coltrane's trailblazing, and the only connection with straightforward bebop wiould be with its desire to move forward. The double-disc set combines two albums Quest recorded for Storyville in the mid-'80s. Playing their own compositions the group was indeed exploring on Quest II, moving from fiery interaction to pieces that explore open space similar to the terrain Miles Davis second great quintet covered in the mid-'60s. The live Quest III -Midpoint disc has a similar approach, yet the players favor the wilder side, getting free but never losing sight of one another.Liebman especially stuns, unleashing complex lines regardless of the mood or tempo. While Quest stuck with originals, Liebman and Beirach duo outing, Double Edge, sought to update the works of their forebears. A total of seven tracks conclude both discs with the duo re-examining Coltrane, Monk and several jazz standards. Most impressive is the nine minute elastic take on '''Round Midnight"and Liebman's verion of "Lover Man" on the bamboo flute.
Le Jazz Hot:The New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra featuring Dave Liebman(Planet Arts Network)
THE GUARDIAN (London)
by John Fordham
This is an unusual venture featuring the great saxophonist David Liebman with a full-blown orchestra under trumpeter Bill Warfield's direction. The band mostly operates in a Gil Evans Sketches of Spain-era mode, on four different examinations of New Orleans soprano-sax pioneer Sidney Bechet's theme Petit Fleur; there are also jazz spins on Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc – references to Bechet's adopted France.
Liebman delivers the opening account of the principal theme, but mingles it with probing multiphonics. The band whoops and slews in a George Russell-like manner on the rocking Creataloop, sidles stealthily on John Coltrane's Blue for Bechet, simmers romantically on a brass-led version of Petit Fleur, and swings hard on its Poulenc variations, with Liebman at his most rugged and forceful on tenor sax.
Lieb Plays Weill (Daybreak Records-Netherlands)
THE GUARDIAN (London)
by John Fordham
Liebman is one of the great contemporary sax improvisers, and a rarity in being an Americanjazz musician from the Miles Davis stable who can embrace pretty much all improv idioms. But lovers of Kurt Weill's classics might blanch at the thought of such a radical reinterpreter being let loose on such sanctified material. The later stages of Mac the Knife do find the unquenchable Liebman drifting further into a world of grunting double-time bursts and upper-end warbles, but the steady click of Eric Ineke's cymbals restrain him, and the saxophonist has rarely sounded more Sonny Rollins-like. Contrastingly, his limpid soprano sax lines curl delicately around Jesse van Ruller's decisive lines on groovers like This Time Next Year and Here I'll Stay. Speak Low is unleashed as a hard-edged, tenor-led swinger full of typical Liebman insinuations, the resourceful leader plays janglingly free-floating piano on Liebeslied and My Ship, and the unaccompanied September Song is a short exercise in seductive solo tenor-sax poetry. Liebman's records aren't usually for the casual listener, but this one might help a lot of the unconverted to get the idea.
One of the privileged few saxmen to have toured with both Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, Liebman is an imaginative veteran with a technique that comes out of decades of word and keen ear for the “outside” phrase that makes the most hackneyed standard sound fresh. Recorded in Holland, this album of Kurt Weill standards teams him with a brilliant guitarist, Jesse Van Rulle. Marius Beets, who sound engineered the session, and the propulsive Ineke complete a classy all Dutch rhythm section. Van Ruller gells with Liebman remarkably well. His antique Levin semi-acoustic enhances Liebman’s soprano saxophone on “This Time Next Year,” recast as a mid tempo bossa and skates smartly through “This Is New.” Weill’s most used standard, ”Speak Low” is also taken briskly with Liebman back on tenor and a quote from “Milestones” to bookend the arrangement. The leader’s piano version of “My Ship” and “Liebeslied,” the latter a free duet with Ineke’s brushes are a bit of a curiosity but in general fans should enjoy his trawl through the Weill songbook. Whether well known (“This Is New,” “September Song”) or less (“Apple Jack,” Here I’ll Stay”), every Weill theme has a strong melodic logic an artist like Liebman needs.
YORKSHIRE POST (England)
The masterful saxophonist David Liebman has produced some fine records in recent years, but this one probably tops them all. It's a stimulating run through the music of Kurt Weill, one of the greatest of popular song composers. Liebman moves between tenor, soprano and flute for expansive readings of the likes of Mack the Knife and Speak Low. He's mostly accompanied by bassist Marius Beets and drummer Eric Ineke, which gives him plenty of harmonic space, though guitarist Jesse Van Ruller also appears. Liebman is on peak form.
Dave Liebman Group Live at MCG (Manchester Crafts Guild Records)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by John Kelman
It may not possess the same visibility as other longstanding groups like the Dave Holland Quintet or Oregon, and saxophonist Dave Liebman's Group hasn't completely avoided flux. Marko Marcinko replaced drummer Jamey Haddad a few years back, and Phil Markowitz's departure trimmed the group from a quintet to a quartet, even though the keyboardist continues collaborating with Liebman to this day, most recently on Saxophone Summit's Seraphic Light (Telarc, 2008). Bassist Tony Marino and guitarist Vic Juris remain to this day, contributing to David Liebman Group's reputation as one of the most thrilling live groups going.
Thus making Live at MCG—a 1995 live performance from the heralded Pittsburgh organization's archives—all the more important a find. Studio efforts including Conversation (Sunnyside, 2003) and Blues All Ways (OmniTone, 2007) are excellent, to be sure, but this is a group best heard live. Liebman's quintet—with one foot in the tradition, the other in the future—can swing like mad, but isn't afraid to head into higher octane fusion territory—after all, Liebman played with Miles Davisduring his most extreme mid-1970s electric years.
Two Markowitz originals, two Liebman compositions, and two well-known standards provide plenty of space for everyone to stretch out. Bringing his tenor back in recent years, at this time Liebman was still focusing on a soprano voice that remains one of jazz's most original since the death of John Coltrane. Markowitz's reputation is as a pianist, but here, on his high energy "Cut," he delivers a synth solo as compelling as any from the usual suspects, and an opening piano solo on "Mine Is Yours" that references Chick Corea, but with a less percussive touch. Juris, as ever, proves a distinctive yet chameleon-like player who capitalizes on all the strengths of contemporaries including Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and John Abercrombie, but with a few twists of his own. His solo on "Cut" is a marvel of construction, combining bluesy bends, lithe bop lines, and textural energy to make it a highlight on an album filled with them.
Liebman reharmonizes "Maiden Voyage," its harmonic ambiguity mirroring Herbie Hancock's solo on the 1964 original, while Miles Davis' "All Blues" gets reworked into 11/4. The saxophonist goes partially pan-cultural on his "Beyond the Line," with Haddad's Hadgini udu drum intro, but ultimately shifts into a buoyant, mid-tempo space to feature both himself and Juris. Haddad's udu drum returns on "New Age" and, alongside Liebman's wooden flute, heads back into similar territory, but the sophisticated voicings of Liebman's dark changes belie the world references. Marino—a creative acoustic bassist here, but an equally vital electric one elsewhere in the set—delivers a set-defining solo, while Liebman's expressionist tendencies remain well-suited to the music without breaching excess; always as rich in structure and content as they are visceral in energy.
65 minutes later, Live at MCG affirms that this group can play anything. In a fusion mood perhaps—albeit one that speaks in the broadest terms—David Liebman Group combines a plethora of cross-stylistic, pan-cultural interests into a singular, transcendent and incendiary whole
The Miles Davis/Gil Evans Collaborations(Jazz Heads Records)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Alex Henderson
In 1959-60, Miles Davis joined forces with Gil Evans and combined postbop jazz with elements of flamenco and Spanish classical music on the ambitious Sketches of Spain. That recording went down in history as one of the trumpeter’s finest achievements and many years later in 2002, the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) Jazz Orchestra paid tribute with a concert that found them performing the album in its entirety and boasted guest soloist Dave Liebman on soprano sax. That concert resulted in Sketches of Spain Live, which was originally self-released by the Manhattan School of Music in 2003 and has been reissued by Jazzheads.
This is a plus because it can only mean wider distribution for a recording that didn’t receive as much exposure as it deserved. With Justin DiCioccio conducting, Liebman and the orchestra perform Sketches of Spain’s five selections in the same order in which they appear on Davis’ original. Understandably, some listeners who are suspicious of the jazz-as-repertory-music approach will wonder why Sketches of Spain needed to be revisited. But here’s the good news: Sketches of Spain Live is about interpretation, not emulation. Liebman, DiCioccio and the MSM Jazz Orchestra are smart enough to avoid making an exact replica of Davis’ classic.
Minus Davis’ subtle, understated, cool-toned trumpet, Sketches of Spain Live will never be mistaken for the original classic; with Liebman’s probing sax taking center stage, the album acquires an appealing personality of its own. Plus, parts feature a guitar soloist (Juan Meguro), something the original didn’t. Had a trumpeter with a strong Davis influence - Wallace Roney, for example - been the main soloist, Sketches of Spain Live could have easily been too similar to the original. But that doesn’t happen, thankfully - and the participants offer plenty of intrigue during this memorable concert.
Relevance (Red Toucan Records-Canada)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Jerry D’Souza
Saxophonists Dave Liebman and Evan Parker have established careers as improvisers of the first order. Both are visionaries unafraid of taking risks, and fathoming unusual territory. Their impulses may be driven by fragments or lengthy declamations, but in the end they wrap it up with cohesive logic. The high level of skill is evident on this CD, recorded live at the Vortex in London for a BBC broadcast.
Liebman had long wanted to play with Parker, and his hopes materialized through drummer Tony Bianco, who arranged for the performance to take place. As Liebman tells it, they said "hello," went onstage and improvised two sets that each went on for over 70 minutes.
The empathy between the three, which is stunning, runs right across the sets, balanced between intense, driving improvisation and gentler, melodic permutations.
How much intensity can two saxophonists derive? The answer comes on "Part 1," which has angular trajectories and quicksilver shards that never lag. The pace is intense, as Parker and Liebman engage each other through a host of intertwining elements. In a situation like this, with both playing soprano and tenor saxophones, it is difficult to tell them apart. But it is that very situation which makes the music amazing, as they establish and nourish a symbiotic relationship.
"Part 4" is the calm before the end. Bianco, the integral driving magnet of polyrhythm, is a surge of ideas that slowly raise the tempo. Liebman rinses it with a pastoral air on Indian bamboo flute, as he shapes a melody and then lets it blossom. Parker is introspective on tenor, as he caresses a steely edge and then unreels a tumble of nimble phrases.
Free, volatile and airily becoming, Liebman, Parker and Bianco pack it all in spades.
Dave Liebman is one of those artists whose incredible technical virtuosity, original sound, flexibility and openness to the universe of style parameters in improvisation is vast. One cannot help admire, though I’ve read reviews by people who seemed annoyed by the virtuosity. “What’s up with that,” I wonder?
Relevance is a long-spun trio outing of Liebman with the seminal out saxophony of Evan Parker and the busily driving Free drumming of Tony Bianco. Evan Parker does what he does beautifully and that’s what he does here. But of course it’s Liebman who is not often set in a Free energy zone and he shows on this disk that he can hold his own with Parker for invention, stamina, and volcanic energy. The disk sports three long, totally Free improvisations and what results is one of the more exhilarating sessions I’ve heard in a long time.
The two-way dialog Dave and Evan get going is rather breathtaking and Bianco is perfectly irrepressible, insatiable in his stoking of the flames. Those that don’t care for the all-stops-open hoot-out should stay away from this one. Others will find some of the best playing on record for both saxophonists. Now that’s saying something. Liebman’s chromatic mastery and sound color control is something to hear and Evan continues at the top of his game. Simply ravishing!
By Scott Broomer
The saxophonists Dave Liebman and Evan Parker might not immediately strike one as likely associates: Liebman, a one-time member of Miles Davis’ electric band, usually workswell within the jazz tradition; Parker is usually associated with free improvisation and a mastery of techniques including circular breathing and polyphonic lines. However they share strong common roots in the music of John Coltrane, Liebman emphasizing theharmonic discourse, Parker the molecular exploration of rhythmic and melodic motifs of Coltrane’s final energy-music phase. The result here is a cheerful explosion of free jazz, two senior masters reaching to their insistent roots to explore musical fraternity, creating in the process firestorms of saxophone blowout in company with drummer Tony Bianco whose fiercely knitted rolls form a dense moving backdrop for their dialogue. While Parker and Liebman have distinct characteristic sounds—the former gruffer and more vocal, the latter more metallic—so intense are the empathy and cohesion here that there are moments in which identities merge and shift, each passing through the mirror of instrumental voices. While their soprano saxophones provide passages of light and reflection, it’s the dark intensity of the tenor exchanges that is most memorablein one of the year’s most impassioned releases.
According to Dave Liebman's liners on Relevance, he's wanted to play with Evan Parker for a long time, and as Parker has always shown a willingness to make new musical acquaintances on the bandstand (witness the various lineups of his recent two-week stint at The Stone in New York), drummer Bianco accordingly arranged a January 27, 2008 performance at the Vortex. The results, taped by the BBC, were two improvised trio sets of slightly under 40 minutes apiece. Each begins with a long blowout, rounding things off with a shorter, more pensive coda; the saxophonists switch between tenor and soprano, with Liebman adding bamboo flute at the conclusion.
In the second set they seem more comfortable with each other's playing, and the performance is perhaps slightly more satisfying, but the initial squaring off of two Coltrane-influenced tenors has its own unique pleasures. Parker is as always adaptable to his partner's approach, sublimating his standard soprano pyrotechnics into a more collaborative form, particularly in the second set, where he introduces some odd Monkish elements that elicit a ferocious tenor performance from Liebman. Liebman refers to Bianco's drumming as "a flowing and consistent carpet": fair enough, though you might want to add "roiling" to that description. Liebman compares this encounter to the "Tenor Madness" meeting of Coltrane and Rollins, which might seem an overweening comparison but isn't all that off-base given the stature of the participants. Like that encounter, Relevance might well be only a one-off, but it's an excellent one, documenting the give and take of two modern masters of the saxophone.–SG
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Ken Waxman
Relevance offers one of the most spectacular examples of unrestrained tenor—and soprano—madness since John Coltrane recorded with Pharoah Sanders. Instructively it's difficult to tell one reedist from the other, a fact that is unsurprising since both men's styles initially derive from Trane. While the duets are linear, any fireworks expressed are kept within the creative framework by the solid rolls, pops and jagged rebounds of Bianco. From the beginning it's likely Liebman on tenor who latches onto hocketing squeaks and extended vibrato runs while Parker's tenor playing evolves from irregular diaphragm-forced runs to reed biting. More moderato on sopranos, the two create in double counterpoint. Only in the second set does Parker use circular breathing; in response Liebman unrolls throat-tightening dissonance and triple-tonguing. Before switching back to tenors for an additional layer of contrapuntal contours, one saxophonist sounds an adagio tone that could come from a country blues fiddle.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Mark Corroto
It is hard to imagine that these two saxophone titans, Dave Liebman and Evan Parker, had never met on stage before this 2008 concert at The Vortex in London. Both are innovators with a distinct, almost larger than life sound and they combine forces to make this meeting very special.
Back in the 1970s, Liebman was chosen by Miles Davis to help drive the trumpeter's sound on recordings like On The Corner (Columbia, 1972), Dark Magus (Columbia, 1974), and Get Up With It (Columbia, 1974). At the same time, Parker was fostering the European free music scene with Peter Brotzmann and Chris McGregor. Fast-forward some thirty plus years and both musicians have established solid careers and dedicated followers.
Putting the two saxophonists on stage together tempts an old fashion cutting contest or perhaps a last- man-standing show of endurance, however this is not the case. The energy of these two sets may be draining, but it's that good kind of tired.
Credit goes to Tony Bianco, the New York born drummer who has made a career playing free jazz in Europe. His unremitting pulse sustains this date throughout, playing with such ferocity that neither saxophonist has the opportunity or possibility to overshadow the other. It might be said that he steals the show.
The recording is broken down into two sets and four parts. The first three parts are barn burners, matching both Liebman and Parker on tenor saxophones, soprano saxophones, and a combination of both. Neither treads upon the other's territory, instead they opt to circle each other, encouraging a seemingly constant increase in animation. Spread between the right and left channel, the beauty of each player's sound is revealed. The last "Part 4," acts as the audience's re-entry with Liebman switching to flute and Parker maintaining his signature soprano sound. With Bianco on mallets, the ease of the trio's interaction allowing everyone to regain their real world senses.
FREE JAZZ BLOGSPOT
Saxophonist Dave Liebman is an absolute sax virtuoso, but his stylistic range is so wide, and his musical appetites so broad, that you never know what you get when you buy his albums : the music can be mellow and bland, new-agey superficial, yet equally creative or adventurous.
Dave Liebman explains in the liner notes that he has a wish list of musicians he wants to perform with, and that Evan Parker was on top of that list. Drummer Tony Bianco managed to arrange a gig. The three met, and without further ado hit the stage for a fully improvised concert, resulting in this fantastic album. The first piece starts as a "tenor battle" in the best tradition, a real blow fest in which the two hornsmen meet and greet, challenge and respond, push forward and push forward, relentlessly supported by Bianco's nervous and thundering drumming, and when you think they will calm down a bit, the exact opposite happens: tension increases, energy levels are raised, with each one stepping back for a few minutes to let the other play solo a little, but then they lock horns again, and yes, they do calm down, giving Bianco some space, but that is of course only until the storm breaks loose again.
The second piece starts calm and meditatively, with the two saxes easily finding a common language and tone, but then halfway the piece Bianco seems tired of their musings and increases the tempo, and the intensity of the sax dialogue, which continues to evolve in the best traditions of the "Tenor Madness" album by Sonny Rollins with John Coltrane that Liebman refers to in the liner notes, with the only difference, that what Liebman and Parker get out of their saxes was not only inconceivable in 1957, but it surely must sound as real madness to the two jazz legends. The last track starts with drum rumbling and bamboo flute, then Parker takes over on sax, for some shamanistic yet sensitive playing.
Even if these two virtuosi have never played together, the ease with which they find common ground, in every respect, is stunning. So is the music. Fierce, energetic and surprisingly warm.
Five On One (Pirouet Records-Germany)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Raul d’Gama Rose
If, indeed, albums are living breathing beings—and this might well be so—then the beating heart of Five on One, by the marvelous Contact ensemble, is "Lost Horizon," a mighty, burbling piece of music that appears to come from a cornucopia of modern sound. It is mysterious, magical and hypnotic, and brings waves of sound that lap incessantly into the inner ear with that warm undertow made memorable by five of the most eminent musicians of this day. Incandescent saxophonist Dave Liebman melds undulating sound with the mellifluous tonal palette of guitarist John Abercrombie. Both these men make their harmonies dance interminably with virtuoso pianist Marc Copland, the melodic invention of bassist Drew Gress and the polyrhythmic imploring of drummer Billy Hart. There is something eternal about that track and it defines the interaction of the men on this album.
Such inspired musicianship is rare these days, when production values mysteriously appear perfect by electronic means. Thus the acoustic values of this intrepid album leap out of the speakers from which they are played. Abercrombie, for instance, is flamboyantly vocal on his own "Sendup." Hart dreams up a myriad colors for a full tonal spectrum of harmony on Gress' "My Refrain" and his own audacious "Lullaby for Imke," which floats like a still, glacial nocturne as the drummer guides it through the pitter-patter of his cymbals and battery of drums. Copland and Gress are so audibly beyond the pale that they seem ghostly in their approach to the music. Occasionally, however, they burst forth from their spirit-like abodes, as in Copland's magnificent modal piece, "Childmoon Smile," which is full of impressionistic suggestiveness; and Gress' own melodic deconstruction on "My Refrain," a reverential comment on Bill Evans' "My Romance."
The icing on the proverbial cake is the retelling of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's "You and the Night and the Music." Here once was a quiet, crepuscular piece with every possible shade night, from grey to blue to purple. Now, in its place stands a breathtaking sweep of harmonic brilliance rushed through at almost breakneck speed, but with precision in melody and time. The pulse of the piece is now perfectly deconstructed and put back together again with mystical dexterity. It is a nimble work now; absent is the noir-ish effect. Absent also is the mournful, almost dervish-like mood. In its place is a sparkle that keeps the nocturnal imagery alive, but spotlights it all with something new and wholly magnificent.
This album is a veritable masterpiece. Its echo comes from the soul of the musicians and it is heard and felt first in the heart then in the ear where it resonates with brilliance throughout the breathtaking sweep of the music.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By Joel Roberts
5 on One is the debut album by what can only be called a supergroup of progressive jazz luminaries: soprano and tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. While the members of the quintet, recording under the name Contact, have never played together as a group before, they’re far from strangers. Liebman and Abercrombie were part of the ‘70s fusion group Lookout Farm; Liebman and Hart played together in the group Quest in the ‘80s; Liebman and Copland have recorded together in duo and quartet settings and Gress is a current member of Copland’s trio. That’s a lot of history and, along with shared artistic sensibilities and an uncanny musical rapport, it’s what separates Contact from many similar and often forgettable, allstar troupes.
This is a truly collaborative ensemble, with each of these strong personalities ceding predominance to the group. The group also shares compositional duties, with each member contributing at least one original tune, mostly intricate slow to midtempo numbers. Copland’s “Childmoon Smile” features the pianist’s characteristic romanticism while Hart’s “Lullaby for Imke” is a simple, beautiful piece that elicits Liebman’s most heartfelt tenor work. Gress’ meditative “Like It Never Was” starts slowly before building to some ferocious exchanges between Liebman and Abercrombie. While there’s a chamber jazz feel to much of the material here, there are occasional forays into more aggressive, freer territory, notably on Abercrombie’s Ornette-inspired “Four on One”, which showcases some exceptionally vigorous playing from the usually restrained Copland. The single standard on the album is a marvelously inventive, modernist take on “You and the Night and the Music”, which turns the familiar ballad into a dark, mildly threatening journey propelled by Liebman’s fiery tenor.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Troy Collins
Five on One features five of the most renowned artists in modern jazz working together as a cooperative ensemble under the name Contact. Saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummerBilly Hart transcend the aesthetic limitations of many similar all-star gatherings with their complementary sensibilities, garnered over the years in various configurations.
Although this is the first time all five musicians have worked together, their paths have crossed many times before, most recently on Copland's Another Place (Pirouet, 2008). Abercrombie and Liebman were founding members of the early seventies fusion septet Lookout Farm, while the saxophonist and Hart performed together in the late eighties acoustic quartet Quest . Liebman and Copland have worked in duo and quartet formations in the recent past, with Gress and Hart regularly appearing as sidemen in the pianist's various trios.
A truly collaborative effort, each artist strives for synchronous accord within the collective without abandoning his own personal strengths and idiosyncrasies. Copland delves beyond his usual introspective romanticism, occasionally probing deeper into more expressionistic territory. Abercrombie and Liebman, renowned for their stylistic diversity, wax lyrical across a wide dynamic range—from stately to spirited—with understated support provided by Gress and Hart, whose longstanding rapport is infused with a subtle, refined intensity.
Writing duties are split amongst the group, with Abercrombie contributing three of eight originals. The guitarist's buoyant "Sendup" opens the date with a lilting air, framing Liebman's darting soprano against a mosaic of silvery fretwork and Copland's cascading filigrees, as Gress and Hart modulate through variable tempos and meters with nuanced precision. Trafficking in stark, fervent territory, the follow-up, "Like It Never Was" reveals the group's emotional range on a melancholic blues dirge. Copland's free-falling sentiments are amplified by Liebman and Abercrombie at the coda with a simmering urgency that builds to a roiling burn—an aesthetic mirrored on the similarly ardent "My Refrain."
Briefly stepping into avant-garde territory, Abercrombie's pithy free-bop number, "Four on One" careens with brisk Ornettish abandon. Effervescent ballads, like "Childmoon Smile" and "Lullaby for Imke" offer dynamic contrast, showcasing the ensemble's poetic sophistication and sensitivity. But it is the album's epic finale, a subtly deconstructed, unsentimental reading of the American Songbook favorite "You and the Night and the Music" that reinforces the quintet's interpretive prowess. Recast as a dark modal vamp, the quintet ascends from ethereal impressionism to roiling fervor, with Liebman's turbulent tenor instigating a series of potent statements from each member of the group.
The egalitarian nature of this quietly intense summit is magnified by the participants' natural congeniality, with no single artist dominating the proceedings. Lending credence to their name, Contact embodies the finer aspects of collaboration, making Five on One a stellar example of modern mainstream jazz.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Dan Bilawsky
The practice of forming super groups in jazz can be fraught with disaster. Festival promoters often try to draw audiences by lumping musicians together in all-star settings, but a lack of chemistry, familiarity, common ground or interest, often turns these events into yawn-inducing bores. All four of these boundaries, thankfully, don't come into play with Contact—the collaborative quintet responsible for Five On One.
Saxophonist Dave Liebman , guitarist John Abercrombie , pianist Marc Copland , bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart are connected through various channels. Liebman and Abercrombie go back almost forty years—having worked together in Lookout Farm—and the saxophonist first worked with Hart in the '80s. Abercrombie and Copland go way back together and Gress has been a key element in Copland's trio. The shared history between these five men—and their ability to operate on similar wavelengths while asserting themselves in their own special way—helps to create magic across these nine tracks.
Abercrombie and Liebman control the direction of the music on the album-opening "Sendup." Copland is judicious in choosing how much to play on this one but when he interacts with Liebman's soprano, dwelling in a similar range as the saxophonist, he creates sparks with his conversational genius. "Like It Never Was" starts off easy, with some piano work from Copland, but develops into a scorching display of solidarity from Liebman and Abercrombie. These two kindred spirits add some grit to their sound as they tangle—with Liebman occasionally showing a chameleon-like ability to imitate the guitarist—and come together toward the end of the song.
"Four On One" is a rambunctious ride and Liebman delivers some agitated, scurrying lines that work over and around some similar sentiments from Gress. While the quintet takes this one pretty far out, "Lost Horizon" finds them back on solid ground. Copland delivers a brief introduction here, allowing Liebman and Abercrombie to take control of the piece.
Hart's drum work is a key ingredient on "My Refrain," which features another homerun solo from Liebman, but the drummer takes a backseat on his own "Lullaby For Imke. "You And The Night And The Music" is the only Great American Songbook selection on the album but this reading is anything but standard. After a bit of uncertainty, the melody leisurely comes out of Liebman's horn—with some assists from Abercrombie—and Copland really asserts himself here, following Liebman's solo with a bold spot of his own. Gress gets some solo space, before Hart starts trading with the rest of the crew, and the familiar melody returns—albeit in a more anxious state. Contact proves to be an apt choice for a band name—expressing the ability of these particular musicians to connect with one another and, just as likely, their ability to connect with the modern jazz listening public.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by Dan McClenaghan
The band called Contact is about as all-star an affair as can be found in modern jazz, and it's hard to imagine any serious listener not having a favorite among the players, whether it's saxophonist and renaissance man Dave Liebman , pianist Marc Copland—whose marvelous New York Trio Recordings pushed his profile up closer to where it belongs—ECM Records stalwart/guitarist John Abercrombie, veteran drummer Billy Hart, or ubiquitous super sideman/bassist Drew Gress. Five on Oneburns brightly, with a highly cohesive chamber ensemble sound, with no star outshining the others.
Writing assignments are passed around, starting with Abercrombie's lilting "Sendup." It's an optimistic sound, with Liebman, on soprano sax, weaving sweet lines around Copland's light-stepping piano dance, as Hart lays down a gentle and intricate orchestral wash. Gress' "Like It Never Was" explores and inward and interactive ensemble groove, with Liebman wielding a particularly robust tenor saxophone that gathers the group up to a wailing rock energy crescendo before the tune tapers down and drifts off into the ether.
Copland's "Childhood Smile" highlights the pianist's characteristic light touch, which feathers dreamily along in front of the group's nuances and light sonic caresses.
The Caris Visitin/Dave Liebman-penned "Lost Horizon" seems to float like a low, diaphanous morning fog, three feet above the surface of the Earth, as Copland explores the twilight zone, Liebman's soprano cries out like a lonely bird, and Gress, with amazing subtly, shows why he is such an in-demand bassist.
The group takes things way out to the edge with Abercrombie's "Four on One," with Copland surprisingly percussive. Gress' "Like It Never Was" opens with a smoldering momentum that gathers to raging blaze of controlled burn, with Liebman and Abercrombie shredding.
Hart's "Lullaby for Imke" was written, obviously for a gentle and beautiful soul. The music is just that, with tenorist Liebman blowing with achingly heartfelt beauty, as Copland and Abercrombie accompany with grace and shimmering elegance.
The group could have wrapped it up right there for a top shelf effort, but goes after the Great American Songbook jewel, "You and the Night and the Music," to close the show. It is a free-ranging take on the tune, the ensemble noodling slowly into the familiar melody, and then winding it up for a rollicking ride of searing ensemble interplay and Liebman's raw tenor saxophone sound.
Five on One is one of those rare all-star efforts that exceeds expectations, and will certainly be tagged for "Best of the Year" lists.
By Richard Kamins
Contact is composed of five master musicians - Dave Liebman (tenor & soprano saxophones), Marc Copland (piano), John Abercrombie (guitar), Drew Gress (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) each has been on the "scene" for a good while. Everyone contributes, at least, one original piece and they save the one standard, "You and the Night and the Music" for the final track. Instead of breaking down each cut, let me illuminate what's so good about this CD. First, it's most definitely a "group" recording - it feels like a working unit, the music breathes, the musicians are listening to each othe and the interplay is intuitive. There are moments on the opening track "Sendup" when Copland, Abercrombie and Liebman are weaving lines around each other in the manner of The Hot Five in the 1920s. That's not to say the tune is "trad jazz" or New Orleans Jazz but that the musicians are creating a rich tapestry.
Secondly, the music is cliche-free. Because the players trust each other, they can make individual statements and move in unexpected directions. Thirdly, Abercrombie and Liebman have such distinctive styles. The latter has such a "full" sound on soprano sax yet he never overblows as he displays on his romp through "Childhood Smile." His tenor playing can be muscular but he tends to insinuate himself into a song. He does just that on "You and The Night...", creating a solo that moves from contemplation to forceful phrases with ease and forethought. Abercrombie plays so smartly. He can "let loose" with fiery lines (he does so on "Four On One") or play with grace of a dancer ("Lullaby for Imke".)
The rhythm section can't be beat. Gress is a strong support underneath and an expressive soloist while Hart swings, prods, pushes and caresses, often within one song. He's a "colorist" and a sparkplug.
Copland is a smart accompanist, a playful and thoughtful soloist - his interactions with Liebman and Abercrombie make one sit up and pay attention while his rippling phrases can be mysterious and contemplative. He's never showy or pretentious, always quite musical.
Good creative music makes one want to listen again and again because each musician is doing interesting work (and you can't take it in all at once.) This music has swing, drive, melody, harmony and intelligence - give us more.
by Brad Walseth
Talk about your supergroups: the five members of Contact: saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Drew Gress, have played together in various incarnations over the years, but this is the first occasion all five have been involved together in a recording - and it is a welcome moment for jazz fans indeed. Abercrombie's "Sendup" starts things off brightly - Liebman's glorious soprano sax floating above Abercrombie's intricate knots and Copland's piano sheen. Gress - the youngest member - is especially vibrant, while Hart displays his veteran touch on this jaunty number.
All of the members function as equals and contribute compositions. Gress' "Like it Never Was" is a moody stroll down a street of broken dreams, while Copland's ballad "Childmoon Smile" is an achingly gorgeous number. Abercrombie provides a fun free jazz entry "Four on One" - which recalls Ornette Coleman, while Liebman and wife Caris Visentin offer the pleasing mid-tempo "Lost Horizon." Liebman switches over to tenor on Abercrombie's "Retractable Cell" with nice results. Gress' "My Refrain" picks up the energy again, with Liebman shredding on soprano and great ensemble work from all, while Hart pitches in with the pensive "Lullaby for Imke" (with Liebman on smoky tenor). The sole standard - "You and the Night and the Music" ends the album with a stellar arrangement and is perhaps the highlight of the entire set, with energetic solos from all. A true pleasure to hear these fine players working together
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
By John Kelman
They've played together in various permutations and combinations, but Five on One represents the first time they've joined together as a discrete unit. Reconvening the Second Look (Savoy, 1996) quartet—which comprises four-fifths of Contact— pianistMarc Copland proved you can go back again with Another Place (Pirouet, 2009). The quartet's bassist, Drew Gress, has also been a longstanding member of Copland's piano trio, last heard on Night Whispers: New York Trio Recordings Vol. 3 (Pirouet, 2009). Its drummer, Billy Hart, teamed with saxophonist Dave Liebman in Quest, a late-'80s group that reunited for a 2005 tour, documented on Redemption: Live in Europe (Hatology, 2007). Finally, guitarist John Abercrombie was a charter member of the 1970s group Lookout Farm with Liebman. Closing the circle, Liebman and Copland are no strangers, having joined forces for the duo recording Bookends, and quartet set Lunar, both released in 2002 on Switzerland's Hatology label.
Contact brings these five players together for an egalitarian set of eight originals and one standard—a surprisingly open-ended look at the enduring classic, "You and the Night and the Music," which runs the gamut from a dark, modal vamp that immediately speaks Copland's distinctive harmonic voice (and provides a unique context for the song's familiar melody) to fiercely swinging grist for some uncharacteristically outgoing solo playing from the normally pensive pianist.
It's the very combination of a pianist who, more often than not, leans towards introspection and impressionism, and a saxophonist for whom the word "burning" is rarely seen far from his name, that makes Five on One such a revelation. Each player demonstrates his individual strengths and predilections, but coming together clearly pushes each into unexpected territory, as Copland's skewed romanticism and harmonic ambiguity on his own "Childmoon Smile" leads to a soprano solo from Liebman that combines passionate lyricism and evocative leaps into the instrument's upper register.
Abercrombie's writing dominates the set, with three tunes including the almost-album-titled "Four on One," essentially a free improvisation with a brief head that acts as both context setter and rallying point. Taken to far greater extremes than versions on the guitarist's Night (ECM, 1984) or John Abercrombie/Marc Johnson/Peter Erskine (ECM, 1989), it combines a collective chemistry, engendered from years of working in other contexts, with an equally vital sound of surprise, stemming from this first encounter as a unit. As ever, Abercrombie's biggest strength lies in his ability to possess a distinct and recognizable voice without resorting to stock phrases or musical devices that, over time, begin to ring of repetitiveness and predictability.
A description that can, in fact, apply to everyone in Contact. Whether it's turning to starker melodism on Liebman's "Lost Horizon" (co-written with wife Caris Visentin) or revisiting Gress' slow-cooking "Like It Never Was," from the bassist's outstanding 7 Black Butterflies (Premonition, 2005), this is a marriage of many qualities that could, in other hands, work against each other, but here serendipitously assert a unique and compelling collective voice. With a debut this strong, here's hoping Five on One isn't a one-off affair.
NO TREBLE MAGAZINE
by Phil Wain
There is some delightful music here rewarding an active listener with its subtle inventions and interactions. The atmosphere is mostly fairly restrained: no “passionate” show-boating, few extremes of mood, just inventive and beautiful music. You might not have heard of Contact but you have heard of some of the musicians: Dave Liebman, Billy Hart and John Abercrombie.
Liebman is a personal favorite of mine. He gave the most inspiring clinic talk I have ever heard; he lives, walks and breathes music and he is a great saxophonist. His resume of course reflects that: Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and Chick Corea (to name only three) chose him for their bands and Liebman has led fine bands of his own. He has a sinuous way with a melody and a sure footed ability to take a line far “out” and sound “in” simultaneously at times as well as a fabulous tenor saxophone tone and an an individual voice on soprano. Liebman is a giant of manipulating timbre, timing, note length and expression to manipulate every detail of a note.
Abercrombie, who made his name in Billy Cobham’s band which also featured the Brecker brothers, had a long association with ECM leading to some fabulous albums: “Timeless” with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette and “Gateway” with Dave Holland and DeJohnette; later making a series of records with Mark Johnson. He has the spiky melodicism of a Pat Metheny, a John Scofield or a Mick Goodrick but also an understated pastoral, sensitive way with a melody.
Drew Gress is the bassist here. He has often played in trios with the pianist Marc Copeland and they have an uncanny symbiosis. At times their relationship is so close and natural that the listener can just take it for granted and let it sweep over him. But such naturalness takes work and skill. New Jersey born, Philadelphia raised, New York resident Gress has developed a compositional approach to free jazz improvising, collaborating with the likes of Tim Berne, Ben Monder, David Binney and Uri Caine. Here Gress serves the music beautifully, understated at times, soloing beautifully and interacting incredibly well with the quintet who always play with open ears.
The legendary Billy Hart (Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner) is on drums. Hart, who started his career with soul bands like Sam and Dave, is a fabulously inventive and subtle presence here – full of personality while simultaneously serving the music. Hart is an excellent presence on this record: such inventive playing, never opting for the obvious and playing such fabulous games with time and tone. Marc Copeland, the pianist, alternatively minimal in the background and a powerful leading voice in the music has a long association with Abercrombie as well as with Gress, as mentioned. His sensitive and musical playing here whets my appetite to hear his trio with the guitarist and Kenny Wheeler.
This is an understated record at times. It doesn’t grab the listener by the throat. There’s a danger that, if you allow it to, it can drift over you like finely crafted mood music but active listening reveals a tapestry of colors, textures, tones and sounds and an immaculate interaction among the quintet. Five on One rewards careful listening.
The tracks range from “Send Up” – a swaying vehicle for Abercrombie and Liebman to “Childmoon Smile” – a delicious, delicate ballad displaying the empathy between Copeland and Gress and featuring Liebman’s scurrying soprano. “Like it Never Was” is one of my favorites, developing from soft slow melodies, building slowly to a beautiful 3/4 ballad featuring a deep-tones solo from Gress, Liebman’s stand-out, fabulous tenor and Copeland’s tension-filled piano explorations to a rolling 9/8 shuffle romp with angular wonders from Abercrombie. Hart is fabulous here as the band builds to an exciting climax.
Ballads and mid-tempo tracks predominate here. “Lost Horizon” is a serene ballad featuring Copeland’s relaxed mastery on piano. I love the way many of the melodies are voiced for Liebman and Abercrombie who have a natural affinity. “Lullaby for Imke” begins in suitably lullaby-like fashion with Copeland’s solo piano and develops into a fabulous group improvisation featuring subtle guitar and barreling tenor exchanging brief statements.
The free-ish “Four on One” features a delightful, skipping Ornette Coleman influenced melody over a clip-clopping beat from Hart. The track develops into a great example of simultaneous improvisation developing from captivating free jazz sections (including some dramatic playing from Copeland). Gress is in his element here, conversing and interacting constantly with the soloists and building a great freeform solo.
“My Refrain” and “Retractable Cell” are mid-tempo tunes with the former featuring Hart’s cross rhythms that gradually build intensity while the latter has an involved Latin sounding melody, beautifully introduced by piano and guitar and features some fabulous tenor improvisation from Liebman and short but intense solo from Abercrombie. The final track, “You and the Night and the Music” (the only standard among some fine compositions) is cleverly arranged and is a wide ranging performance – a very contemporary exposition with a marvelous obtuse approach to rhythm and which again features superb soloing from Liebman.
This might well be my favorite recording of Dave Liebman, he is in fine, fine form on this record in what is a splendid band. It’s played by five musicians who know each other well and play for the music rather than for themselves. It sounds like a band record, not an all-star record.
Well, it should. Not only are these five very empathetic human beings they have also played together a lot. As well as the connections I mentioned earlier, Liebman and Abercrombie played together as early as 1973 in “Lookout Farm”; and Liebman played with Hart in the 1980s. These five obviously enjoy playing together and I enjoy listening.
by Doug Simpson
While Five on One might seem like a professional wrestling pile-up or a hockey power play, it actually refers to five masterful musicians joined together for the first time on one album: saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. Five on One is also a sly nod to John Abercrombie’s piece in this collection, “Four on One.”
This quintet that calls itself Contact has never performed as one unit before but everyone involved has, in one form or another, previously been acquainted. Gress is a member of Copland’s trio; Billy Hart teamed up with Liebman in the group Quest; Abercrombie and Liebman were part of the band Lookout Farm; Liebman and Copland were allies in duo and quartet outings; and Abercrombie and Copland have also shared their talents on other recordings.
It goes without saying these five artists have a dynamic unity, bring a concentrated interaction to the nine tracks and reveal a complete sensitivity to each other over the hour long program. The sense of musical democracy carries over to songwriting as well: Abercrombie penned three tunes, Gress two, and Copland, Liebman and Hart one per man. A single standard rounds out the set list.
The record consists of medium to slow tempo material accentuating nuances, subtlety and restrained delight. However, there is also stylistic diversity, simmering complexity and expressive aesthetics. Take Abercrombie’s opening number “Sendup”: Liebman’s wistful soprano sax drifts above Abercrombie’s absorbing chords and Copland’s always glossy piano. Gress’s resonant bass rides underneath while Hart arrays chipper rhythmic touches.
Gress’s compositional aptitude unfolds during the pensive “Like It Never Was.” Originally from the bassist’s 2005 release 7 Black Butterflies, this version is a disconsolate trudge down a memory of heartbreak. Once the somber theme is introduced and run through, Abercrombie stretches out via some of his renowned sharp potency that recalls his Gateway endeavors. Liebman layers bits of understated sax that gradually kindles into a like-minded ignition.
Copland’s nostalgic ballad “Childmoon Smile” is a typically elegant creation. While Copland explores refined line after line, the keyboardist and Gress also exhibit a sympathetic camaraderie. Liebman’s melodic sax is perceptive as well as a pleasure to hear.
The piece that exemplifies the quintet’s free-ranging perspective is previously issued “Four on One.” In essence a free improvisation with a summarizing preface, this rendition is taken to more liberal dimensions than earlier presentations. The cut is the shortest, most dominant of the nine compositions, and includes Copland’s abundant keyboard expertise and Gress’s constantly prodding rhythmic facility. The Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz standard “You and the Night and the Music” – the final and longest track – is a similarly superb ensemble undertaking. The modernist arrangement offers an extensive sonic palette with prominent soloing from everyone.
Five on One embodies the ideal of quiet intensity. The material has tension, commanding characteristics and brooding strength. This is not music that slaps, nevertheless there is a softened weight that permeates every moment, poised but ready to strike, akin to an Akira Kurasawa samurai.
Something Sentimental (Kind Of Blue Records-Switzerland)
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
by John Kelman
With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, AAJ Managing Editor John Kelman wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying. It's always a pleasure to hear a group of musicians who, over the years, have developed not just a strong musical bond, but a personal one as well. If it's a truth that most musicians' style is a direct extension of their personality—of who they are—then it's equally logical to extrapolate that the musical interaction between them somehow mirrors the way their friendships have evolved.
First coming together for a party to honor the recently departed mother of their longtime friend, drummer Adam Nussbaum—figurative leader of the collaborative Nuttree Quartet responsible for 2008's aptly titled Standards (Kind of Blue)—it's no real surprise that guitarist John Abercrombie, saxophonist Dave Liebman and Jay Anderson felt so comfortable playing together that a subsequent trip to the bassist's studio seemed like a great idea. It was. With Abercrombie the only one back from Standards, however, it's equally unsurprising that, for Something Sentimental, Nussbaum decided to call this group (Another) Nuttree Quartet.
This is a quartet with a shared résumé that reads like a history of jazz over the past 40 years, with a veritable who's who of luminaries including Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Paul Bley, but for Something Sentimental there was little preplanning; just four friends coming together for a program of eight well-known standards that each of them has likely played more times than they can count. With nothing to prove and no agenda beyond making some good music, it counters any suggestion that mainstream jazz is threatened by either extinction or irrelevance. From the first moments of the quartet's Latin-tinged take on the classic "Poinciana," there's an unassuming, honest vibe that's immediately engaging, instantly compelling. Filled with comfortable interplay and fine soloing, and imbued—despite its eminent accessibility—with an adventurous sense of risk-taking, this is straight-ahead jazz the way it's meant to be played.
The saxophonist focuses exclusively on soprano for the entire set with the exception of the enduring "Besame Mucho" where, with his wooden flute intro supported by Nussbaum's hands rather than sticks, Liebman's pan-cultural proclivities are seamlessly melded into a tune that ultimately turns to mid-tempo swing, bolstered by Nussbaum and Anderson's in-the-pocket groove. The bassist takes the lead on an unexpected version of the song made famous by singer Billie Holiday, "Lover Man," supported by Abercrombie's elegant voicings.
Since Abercrombie gave up his pick in the mid-1990s, regardless of his electric guitar's tone it feels more inherently organic. Still, he solos with tart plangency on the Latin-esque "It's Alright With Me," the disc's fieriest tune, providing sharp, incisive accompaniment for Liebman's most extroverted yet still thematically reverent solo of the set. As good an album as Standards was—and it was very good—it lacked all the inherent benefits of longstanding relationship. With Something Sentimental, (Another) Nuttree Quartet makes the strongest case possible for the value of friendship, the unequivocal link between personality and performance, and the enduring value of The Great American Songbook.
JAZZ AND BLUESPOT
This group with the interesting name is a jazz collective consisting of John Abercrombie on guitar, Jay Anderson on bass, Dave Liebman on soprano sax and wooden flute and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Originally convened to honor Nussbaum's recently departed mother, this record is filled with celebrations for lives well lived.
I originally heard them by a cut played on Jim Wilke's "Jazz After Hours" and it piqued my interest. The group plays subtle well shaded jazz and echoes of the word jazz ensemble "Codona" are present in Liebman's flute and Nussbaum's gentle played percussion. Tracks that I really enjoy include the opening "Poinciana" which has a soft and yearning saxophone and probing guitar developing a patient and pleasant improvisation. "I Hear A Rhapsody" opens with gentle percussion and guitar, involving into a trio improvisation with Anderson's elastic bass taking the lead.
Liebman finally enters late in the performance and floats above and around the trio with dexterous soprano saxophone. The standard "Lover Man' begins with Abercrombie alone, before well paced bass and moderate saxophone and drums arrive on the scene. Anderson again takes center stage with a solo, giving way to a thoughtful and Zen-like interlude of guitar and brushed drums.
Their unique treatment of "Besame Mucho" was my favorite track, focusing on Liebman's spare flute with soft percussion and snaking guitar showing an enigmatic Native American influence. Liebman moves to saxophone for a potent solo, before returning to flute to close the tune out, making this a mysterious and moving performance. This is an album of thoughtful and patient music by players who are willing to put their egos aside for the benefit of the music and group.