David Liebman/Ellery Eskelin Quartet

hatOLOGY 654

More astringent in their reed interaction then earlier tandem tenor teams such as Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin or Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, the overwhelming techniques of American saxophonists David Liebman and Ellery Eskelin advantageously boost each other’s strong points.

Seconded by the spontaneous pulses of drummer Jim Black from Eskelin’s working trio, and the steady back-up of bassist Tony Marino from Liebman’s regular band, the quartet ranges through a series of originals written by band members plus two versions of Eric Dolphy’s “Out There”. Although of different generations – Liebman was born in 1946, Eskelin in 1959 – their mutual respect means that the resulting unison or double counterpoint styling harmonically plugs any pre-existing timbral gaps from either soloist. A similar irregular vibrato allows each saxophonist to frequently improvise a half-step apart until one dips into slurred basso growls and the other nervy altissimo shrills.

The Dolphy line features accelerated spitting pops and knife-sharp cries, with the tune completed by each saxophonist sequentially trading fours with the drummer. Alternately, both are confident enough to limn “Renewal” in a gentle balladic mode, with Marino’s rasgueado arpeggios and triple-stopping their only anchor.

Probably the most expressive piece is Liebman’s “Demi and The Blue Man”, with its vaguely Latin rhythm conveyed by cow-bell whacks, tambourine rattles and bass drum bumps. As the tempo speeds up, the saxmen construct echoing blocks of broken-chord cross tones until reaching a climax of scalar sluices, chirps and tremolo note clusters.

— Ken Waxman

— MusicWorks Issue #104