David Liebman Trio

Lieb Plays Weill
Daybreak-Challenge DBCHR75439

Dave Liebman Group

Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman

Jazz Werkstatt JW 079

Dave Liebman/Evan Parker/Tony Bianco

Relevance

Red Toucan #RT 9338

Three by Lieb:

By Ken Waxman

After more than three decades, saxophonist Dave Liebman is the epitome of the modern improviser whose work is constantly first-class, but rarely challenging. Two of these CDs alter those expectations, showing that his style can be extended.

Take Turnaround, where Liebman and guitarist Vic Jurius, bassist Tony Mariano and percussionist Marko Marcinko, romp through a collection of rearranghed Orenette Coleman tunes. More spectacular is Relevance, a two saxophone face-off between Liebman and London’s Evan Parker, his equivalent in the free music field, backed by drummer Tony Bianco. As good as it is, Lieb Plays Weill, only finds Liebman adding another to his collection of stellar interpretive performances.

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. It isn’t surprising because 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, they 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 saxist sounds an adagio tone that could come from a country blues fiddle.

Coleman is the modern jazzman closest to country blues. Yet Liebman, who specializes in the development of harmony, chooses to emphasize Coleman’s melodies. The interpretations evolve in blocks as opposed to Coleman’s composition as an organic whole. 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.

Although the instrumentation is the same on the salute to German composer Kurt Weill, the conception is anything but radical. Guitarist Jesse van Ruller’s playing, for instance, is so mainstream that Juris’ individuality becomes more obvious. Van Ruller sprinkles licks intelligently and studs his comping with string snaps, but mostly he and the others – bassist Marius Betts and drummer Eric Ineke – are pretty unobtrusive.

Ideas come from Liebman, but rarely ruffle the song-like surfaces. A tune such as “You’re Far Too Near Me” floats on reed obbligatos that are practically Getzian, for example, while “This Time Next Year”, with Liebman’s chirping soprano becomes a mellow bossa nova. Even his flute peeps on “Applejack” are more frilly than funky. About the only time lyricism is tested is on “Speak Low”, when magisterial tenor lines meet intricate staccato plinks from van Ruller. Rejuvenated, the familiar tune pops with finger-vibrated reed smears, expressive string strums and cymbal slaps.

Liebman merely confirms his interpretive skills here, but should be applauded for challenging himself elsewhere. As these CDs attest, the further he gets from his comfort zone the better he sounds.

Track Listing: Lieb: 1. Mack The Knife (Mackie Messer) 2. This Time Next Year* 3. Speak Low* 4. What Good Would the Moon Be 5. Here I’ll Stay* 6. Liebslied 7. Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter 8. You’re Far Too Near Me* 9. Apple Jack* 10. My Ship 11. This is New* 12. September Song

Personnel: Lieb: Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones, wooden flute and piano); Jesse van Ruller (guitar)*; Marius Betts (bass) and Eric Ineke (drums)

Track Listing: Relevance: 1. Relevance (1st Set) Part 1 2. Relevance (1st Set) Part 2 3. Relevance (2nd Set) Part 1 4. Relevance (2nd Set) Part 2

Personnel: Relevance: Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones and Indian bamboo flute); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Tony Bianco (drums)

Track Listing: Turnaround: 1. Enfant 2. Turnaround 3. Kathelin Gray 4. Bird Food 5. Lonely Woman 6. Cross Breeding 7. Face of the Bass/Beauty is a Rare Thing 8. Una Muy Bonita 9. The Blessing 10. The Sky

Personnel: Turnaround: Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones and wooden flute); Vic Juris (electric and acoustic guitars); Tony Mariano (bass) and Marko Marcinko (drums and percussion)

— for All About Jazz-New York May 2010