Anyone who is familiar with Dave Liebman knows that the music he endorses and performs is sure to be cutting-edge, and such is the case with Beyond the Line, Liebman's first-ever recording as leader of his own big band. This is definitely ensemble music for the twenty-first century, and while it may not suit everyone's idea of what a big band should be or sound like, Liebman remains true to his artistic vision, which is to expand the boundaries of contemporary jazz by freeing himself and his companions from a number of time-honored structural and harmonic shackles while leaving in place those elements that separate jazz from other musical forms.
The result is an album of explicitly modern music that is sometimes pretty, occasionally unsettling, but invariably absorbing. As a non-musician, I can't imagine how Liebman's ensemble is able to unravel so handily the labryinthine charts by Ed Sarath, Jim McNeely, Vince Mendoza, Henrik Frisk, Alan Baylock and Bill Warfield; my hat's off to them for not only deciphering Liebman's elaborate blueprint but making the enterprise seem scarcely more taxing than a stroll in the park. Due credit must be given to Liebman's longtime colleague Gunnar Mossblad, who ably directs the band while playing alto and soprano sax in its top-drawer reed section (a phrase that accurately describes the brass and rhythm too).
Liebman wrote the grimly evocative opener, "Hiroshima Memorial," after visiting that shrine to World War II's egregious devastation some two decades ago, and it is presented here in Sarath's graphic arrangement. Liebman's wood flute introduces and ends the mournful piece, and here, as on most numbers, his soprano saxophone is prominently featured. Mendoza scored the lyrical "Beyond the Line," McNeely "Done with Restraint" (which can be interpreted either of two ways) and the durable Louis Prima vehicle "Sing, Sing, Sing," on which drummer Marko Marcinko resides comfortably in the driver's seat. Guitarist Vic Juris is showcased on "Beyond the Line" and Alan Baylock's strapping arrangement of the unruly "Fracas," pianist Jim Ridl on the mellow "Carissima," written by Liebman for his wife, Caris, and arranged by his student, Henrik Frisk. The finale, "Pablo's Story," is an ambitious eleven-minute homage to the late Pablo Picasso, tastefully scored by Warfield and embodying agreeable solos by Liebman and Juris whose seductive guitar introduces its haunting theme.
Those who are partial to Basie, Herman, Kenton or Buddy Rich may wish to leave Beyond the Line off their shopping list, while those who favor Maria Schneider, Dave Holland, Carla Bley, George Gruntz, David Murray, Pierre Dorgé, Anthony Braxton or the Vienna Art Orchestra should seek it out without delay.
Track Listing: Hiroshima Memorial; Beyond the Line; Sing, Sing, Sing; Carissima; Fracas; Done with Restraint; Pablo's Story.
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano sax, wood flute; Gunnar Mossblad, music director, alto, soprano sax; Jay Brandford, alto sax, clarinet, flute; Dave Riekenberg, tenor, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Tim Ries, tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Chris Karlic, baritone sax, flute, bass clarinet; Dave Ballou, trumpet, flugelhorn; Laurie Frink, Bill Warfield, Pat Dorian, trumpet; Tim Sessions, Scott Reeves, Sam Burtis, Jeff Nelson, trombone; Jim Ridl, piano, keyboards; Vic Juris, guitar; Tony Marino, bass; Marko Marcinko, drums, percussion.