Dave Liebman Group, Ottawa, Canada, April 24, 2008
In the previous group Haddad was an undoubtedly versatile player, especially in the area of the world music- inflected rhythms that have also been a part of Liebman's playing since his days with Miles Davis and Lookout Farm, but Marcinkowho spends some of his extracurricular time away from the Liebman group playing in rock bands and Latin groupshas been lighting a fire under the group since their first recording togetherConversation (Sunnyside, 2003). That album remains one of Dave Liebman Group's high water marks, and two tunes were culled from that album for the second setJuris' fiery and effects-laden "Shorty George," which would have fit comfortably as a more electrified outtake from Pat Metheny's 80/81 (ECM, 1980); and Liebman's "Anubis," which began as a pan-cultural tone poem with Liebman on wooden flute, but quickly became a 5/4 improvisational tour de force with improvised segments meshing seamlessly with sinuous melodies and an in-the-gut riff from Juris and Marino acting as a periodic, potent rallying point for the quartet.
Marino is one of those players who, though he may have stood quietly at the rear of Paradiso's postage stamp of a stage, stoked the engine room with Marcinko while demonstrating solo strength of great beauty, power and dexterity. He's also a fine writer, with his first-set ballad, "Generoso," proving it is, indeed, possible to combine compositional complexity and simple lyricism.
In a group in which, Liebman aside, every member is deserving of greater recognition, It's Juris' lack of larger-scale notoriety that remains the greatest mystery. A contemporary with larger names including Frisell, Metheny, Scofield and Abercrombie, he possesses comparable harmonic sophistication and virtuosity. His Blue Horizon (Zoho, 2004) remains an overlooked gem that's his most personal statement as a leader to date. Criticized by some for its eclecticism, it was that very quality that revealed his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz but also of things farther afield.
In performance, his inestimable technique was but a means to improvisational ends, combining fluent chordal strength with a very personal approach to articulating his distinctive single-note lines that, on record, seem unfathomable, but make perfect sense with the luxury of watching him in performance. From Lenny Breau-like harmonics to gritty, Scofield-esque shades of blue, his ability to create soundscapes with his instrument through the use of a small array of effects, is as personal as Frisell's. And, as he's proven on albums ranging from his more mainstream A Second Look (Mel Bay, 2005) to the jamming live album with drummer Ken Serio, Live...In the Moment (Tripping Tree, 2008), there's an ability, similar to John Abercrombie's, to sound distinctly himself, regardless of the context.
The same, of course, can be said for the entire group, based on the two sets that had an Ottawa audience restricted to a small size only because of the capacity limitation of Paradiso, a jazz club that's doing its best to be a home for local musicians and international artists alike. Both sets were packed, giving great hope that the club can continue to expand its horizons to include more shows of this caliber. Critically acclaimed but popularly undervalued, Dave Liebman has a discography that runs the entire gamut from free jazz to through-composed, complex, rock-inflected improvised music. With Juris, Marino and Marcinko he has a flexible working unit that may operate without a safety net but, based on their two Ottawa sets, creates a whole so profoundly satisfying as to lay waste any claim that jazz is in trouble. This was music of the life- affirming variety, capable of energizing and rendering positive even those suffering through the most troubled of times.
T. Bruce Wittet