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David Liebman: Lieb Plays Wilder (2005)

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David Liebman: Lieb Plays Wilder How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Saxophonist Dave Liebman has covered a lot of territory in a career now well into its fourth decade, but his approach has never resembled anything conventional. Much has been written about Liebman mining territory first explored by Coltrane; and in his expressionist approach that is nevertheless capable of rich subtlety, the lineage is clear. Towards the untimely end to his life, Coltrane travelled inexorably away from structure into extended improvisations that had little in the way of conventional foundation, but Liebman has continued to explore improvisational possibilities within more defined frameworks. Sometimes those frameworks can be quite complex, as on recent recordings involving his quartet featuring guitarist Vic Juris; but they can also be looser, as on his duet recording with pianist Marc Copland, Bookends.

While Liebman has a stellar reputation, he curiously remains less of a household name than contemporaries like Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano—with whom he teamed for last year's excellent Saxophone Summit. His general avoidance of major labels has actually been liberating—as with Copland—allowing him to release far more recordings as a leader than such contracts would permit.

And without the interference of a label looking for an easy route to mass appeal, Liebman has been able to make recordings like Lieb Plays Wilder. It's clearly accessible, mining material that feels like standards, but it's more off the beaten path. Alec Wilder, in fact, wrote one of the definitive books on other composers more typically associated with the Great American Songbook, The American Popular Song, but based on the compositions here, he was—at least some of the time—working similar territory himself.

On this largely trio recording with bassist Marius Beets and Eric Ineke—who he rightfully says "is one of the most swinging drummers I know"—Liebman alternates between tenor and soprano saxophones, bringing out a wooden flute for the intro to the darkly balladic "Trouble is a Man." Liebman has spent many years focusing on the soprano, only recently bringing out the tenor more regularly, but that's a good thing, because his musical personality is equally distinctive on the bigger horn.

The material ranges from the bright "Where is the One" and the up-tempo swing of "A Long Night"—one of two tracks featuring guest pianist Marc Van Roon—to the bossa feel of "Winter of My Discontent" and the bluesy jazz waltz "If Love's Like a Lark." Throughout, Liebman honours the intent of the compositions, but he's liberal enough to demonstrate their myriad possibilities by extending into passages where textural flurries replace simpler lyric concerns.

Recording standards is nothing new to Liebman, but with Lieb Plays Wilder he introduces his audience to material that, by all rights, should have been considered part of the Great American Songbook.


Track Listing: Where is the One?; Winter of My Discontent; Trouble is a Man; If Love's Like a Lark; The Wrong Blues; The Lady Sings the Blues; Moon and Sand; Just as Though You Were Here; While We're Young; A Long Night.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute; Marius Beets: bass; Eric Ineke: drums; Marc Van Roon: piano (4, 10).

Record Label: Challenge Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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