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On first inspection, teaming up saxophonists Dave Liebman and Ellery Eskelin might seem to have the potential for an acute dose of musical schizophrenia. But closer consideration reveals that there is indeed a meeting point. Eskelin may have a reputation as a free player, but he's equally concerned with bringing more traditional aspects into his wildly exploratory work. Liebman, on the other hand, may come from a stronger background in the mainstream jazz tradition, though he is by no means a straight-ahead player, and he's certainly no stranger to the greater extremes offered by free improvisation.
And so, on Different But the Same, we find two saxophonists converging on a middle ground that somehow incorporates both elements into a surprisingly cogent blend. And while they find common turf, there is no compromise in sight. With each saxophonist bringing along one player with a longstanding associationin Liebman's case it's bassist Tony Marino, who has been a part of Liebman's groups of the past few years; Eskelin brings along the ever-versatile drummer Jim Black, whose shared relationship dates back over a decadethe meeting is certainly democratic. It's fascinating to hear Black in a more traditional arena than his usual, and to find Marino playing with a greater sense of freedom.
With a set containing originals from both, but also reaching back with interpretations of material by Tadd Dameron, Lee Konitz, Wayne Shorter, and Cole Porter, Different But the Same demonstrates that Liebman and Eskelin share far more than they differ. In fact, the two approach the music with such a similar sensibility that, according to Liebman, "I can't always tell the difference myself," with Eskelin indicating that this was "the result of natural musical choices and the joy in speaking a shared language." Fortunately, the recording places Liebman on the left channel and Eskelin on the right, so despite remarkably simpatico approaches, it's not difficult to identify each player.
Even compositionally there are more similarities than differences. Liebman's "The Gun Wars" begins with a furious drum solo from Black, only to be joined by Marino, Liebman, and Eskelin in one of the most extreme segments of free playing of the set, before settling into an out-of-time unison theme that helps provide some form, albeit couched in a purely unstructured rhythmic backdrop. Eskelin's "How Do I Know" is no less outré, but less intense in nature. And Shorter's "Vonetta" is treated with a more open approach than the original.
Dameron's "Gnid," with its more defined pulse and traditional harmonies, is the most mainstream piece of the set, while Liebman's "Tie Those Laces" combines open-ended improvisation with a humorously idiosyncratic theme. Eskelin's "You Call It" revolves around a three-note phrase, but it demonstrates just how far such a simple conceit can be taken.
Rather than being a dichotomous curiosity, Different But the Same instead reveals how even if two players share a common goal, the route each one takes to get there can be very different indeed.
Track Listing: Tie Those Laces; Gnid; You Call It; Different But the Same; What is This Thing: Subconsciousl-Lee, Hot House, What is This Thing Called Love; How Do I Know; Vonetta; The Gun Wars,
Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor saxophone; Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Tony Marino: double-bass; Jim Black: drums, percussion.