Dave Liebman / Michael Stephans: Nomads (2009)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Veteran saxophonist Dave Liebman is no stranger to experimentation, cutting his teeth playing with Elvin Jones and then Miles Davis' groundbreaking fusion group in the '70s. Drummer/poet Michael Stephans has played with everyone from Pharoah Sanders and John Patitucci to classic rock legends David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. On Nomads, the duo takes on many genres and multiple instruments; the result an ambitiously eclectic album, wandering the musical gambit from originals to reharmonized standards and forgotten pieces by jazz greats.
The CD opens with a lone flute followed by the primitive beating of hand drums, evoking the untouched, desolate landscape of the black and white photos that fill the liner notes. Quickly, the duo change feels with a joyous rendition of Keith Jarrett's "The Windup," featuring an extended drum solo and Liebman playing the perky melody on soprano sax.
One of the most satisfying discoveries of Nomads is Liebman's impressive ability as a pianist. He plays the rarely heard Duke Ellington piece "Dusk" with a light, confident touch that cuts to the beautiful melancholy lurking below the surface. His solo reharmonization of the Burke-Van Heusen classic "Imagination" provides an amuse bouche of sorts for the main course that is "Shape Shifters," a 14-minute opus that has Liebman moving from slow and moody soprano sax phrases to finely constructed piano reminiscent of Bill Evans to a ferocious tenor finale.
Stephans excels not only at holding down the beat and supplying many flourishes, but also at playing a mean alto trombone on the fast-paced "Connect the Dots," throwing in a quick melodic reference to "Luck Be a Lady" while Liebman keeps the beat on the drums. Stephans' wordsmith prowess comes to the foreground in "Mingus Ah Um," a jazz-hop interpretation of a poem he wrote for the great bassist.
Nomads is definitely not for the traditional listener. It's full of twists through seemingly disparate genres, subverting popular thought of what a contemporary jazz album should be. While the transitions between songs are often jarring, the whole is immensely satisfying and electrifying.
Track Listing: Nomads; The Windup; Dusk; Get Happy; Sparrows; Mingus Ah Um; Orange Moon; Tie Those
Laces; Down and Gone; Connect the Dots; Honeysuckle Rose; Imagination; Shape Shifters;
Personnel: Dave Liebman: wood flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, drums, spoken
word; Michael Stephans: percussion, pocket cornet, piano, drums, alto trombone.
Record Label: ITMP
Style: Fringes of Jazz