Saxophonist Dave Liebman's reputation has often rested on his deliberation for carrying the torch laid down by John Coltrane. Expressionistic, with an informed world view, he is as comfortable in a melodic and relaxed setting, as on his most recent quartet record, In a Mellow Tone , as he is in a more free context, beautifully documented on this collaboration with drummer Tony Bianco and long-time bassist Tony Marino. Line Ish finds the trio exploring freedom that has few reference points, but nevertheless comes across as focused and not the least bit self-indulgent.
Bianco states in the liner notes that this was one of the easiest recordings he's ever made. That there is a chemistry amongst the players is clear. That each player is confident enough to, in turn, support and take the lead is also evident. And that everyone has a clear sense of history, of precedence, to give the recording a lineage even while it asserts a personality of its own is also apparent.
The album consists of four pieces that, while largely freely-improvised, are based around ideas, sketches by the artists: two by Liebman, one each by Marino and Bianco. In between these four extended tracks are solos by each player, and a group improvisation, "Group Interlude," that finds Liebman on wooden flute, Marino and Bianco on chimes and bells, with shades of Don Cherry.
The group pieces display a variety of textures, rhythmic values and ambiences. Liebman's "Line Ish: Part One" finds the group exploring and expanding on the territory set forth by Coltrane in his later years. Liebman is his usual outgoing self, creating sheets of sound that ebb and flow with the rest of the rhythm section. "Line Ish: Part Two" has Liebman playing piano, an instrument on which he is rarely heard. On this piece by Marino, Liebman demonstrates a rich sense of abstraction that ranges from spacious to intense, with hints of Cecil Taylor's more aggressive stance. "Line Ish: Part Three" and "Line Ish: Part Four" are equally varied, with the composer providing bare sketches, simple roadmaps to establish the general direction, then letting things loose to see where they might go.
The session is notable for the emergence of Marino as a strong free player. More closely associated with Latin jazz on his own projects and the far more structured context of Dave Liebman's group, to hear him use extended techniques on "Bass Interlude" is both surprising and a real joy. It's always a treat to discover an artist, who has traditionally been pigeon-holed by context, to be far more stylistically diverse, and Bianco shows a remarkable ability to connect with Bianco and Liebman in this more liberated musical environment.
Line Ish marks a return to the United States by Bianco. Based on the results of this fine session of free exchange and uninhibited expression, he should go back there more often.
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Personnel: Tony Bianco (drum set, chimes, bells), Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones, wooden flute, piano, chimes, bells), Tony Marino (double-bass, chimes, bells)