We Three

Three For All
Challenge Records CHR 70130

Baby boomers on either side of 60, these three jazzmen triply confirm that veterans continue to make personal, well-crafted music without falling into the twin traps of self-parodying nostalgia or unwarranted experimentation.

Veteran of their own bands and associations with heavyweights such as Miles Davis, John Scofield and Carla Bley, saxophonist/flautist Dave Liebman, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum apprenticed in the 1960s and 1970s and survived most of the twists and trends of the decades since. Mostly avoiding fads like fusion, they’ve stayed true to their own vision(s).

If Three For All is a little conservative, it’s because the trio members are perfectly content in their musical skins. They’re not rule-breaking visionaries like – to take examples of those who played the same instruments, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus or Tony Williams – but tradition extenders. Thus everything here from the originals – Liebman and Nussbaum pen two each; Swallow three – to the standards by Davis, Thelonious Monk and even Warren-Dubin, stays within the bounds of good taste. This isn’t music that calls for jaw-dropping awe, but rather quiet appreciation.

Even Liebman, who on his solo discs and duos with drummer Abbey Rader often touches on the avant garde, reins himself in until Nussbaum’s “BTU”, the final track. Here he spouts gritty split tones, tongue flutters and glottal punctuation in false registers. For the finale, his rubato recap of the head fuses impressively with the drummer’s thumping and pumping.

Earlier his usually andante tenor saxophone phrasing synchronizes Cool saxists such as Stan Getz, his Bop antecedents like George Coleman, and – on “I Only Have Eyes for You”, with Swallow outputting tasty fills as if he was a six-string guitarist – Forest Flower-era Charles Lloyd.

More noteworthy are his soprano saxophone forays, especially on the title track where his swooping and trilling cadences turn to intense obbligatos. Legato, his timbre doesn’t disturb, but neither is it wimpy. Meanwhile Swallow accompanies it with flat-picking strums as if Liebman is a singer-songwriter not a jazz instrumentalist.

Liebman’s own “The Jewish Warrior” introduced with chirping tones, makes it sound as if the combatant in question is a Japanese samurai not a Hebrew fighter. Before the saxophonist ends the tune with a display of traverse triple-tonguing, its middle section finds him outputting moderato soprano lines that swerve to shadow Nussbaum’s frequent tempo changes.

A metric chameleon, the drummer never lets the beat escape or turn around. Yet while maintaining a steady pulse, he introduces rhythmic variations including Latin inferences, pumping shuffles and basic bounces. Cross sticking and cross pumping, his teamwork with Swallow is such that only rarely do you realize that the bassist is actually walking.

No swan song for spent heroes or record of the next hot thing, Three For All impresses with the almost effortless competence and musicality of We Three.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. What Time Is It 2. Played Twice 3. We 3 4. Up and Adam 5. The Jewish Warrior 6. Whistling Past the Graveyard 7. I Only Have Eyes for You 8. Cycling 9. All Blues 10. The Start of Something Small 11. BTU

Personnel: Dave Liebman (tenor and soprano saxophones and flute); Steve Swallow (electric bass); Adam Nussbaum (drums)