Dave Liebman: A New York Story
The European tour Liebman is referring to is a series of dates he just completed, in December 2010, with his longstanding Dave Liebman Group. The band has released over a dozen records and is one of the longest-runningand hardest-working ensembles in contemporary jazz. Responsible for milestone recordings like Conversation (Sunnyside, 2003), Blues All Ways (OmniTone, 2007), and the recent Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010), the group's bassist and guitaristTony Marino and Vic Juris, respectivelyhave been with the group since its inception, while drummer Marko Marcinko replaced original percussionist Jamey Haddad in 2003. Starting out as a quintet, the group trimmed down to a more travel-capable quartet when pianist Phil Markowitzwho continues to work with Liebman in Saxophone Summit, a reed celebration that also features Joe Lovano and Ravi Coltraneleft in 2001.
Dave Liebman Group, Clockwise from Top Left: Tony Marino
Vic Juris, Marko Marcinko, Dave Liebman
While the empathy among everyone in the group is, at times, uncanny, the connection is particularly vital between Liebman and Jurisa linguistically sophisticated and sonically expansive guitarist who deserves to stand beside greats of his generation like Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and John Abercrombie, and whose Omega is the Alpha (Steeplechase, 2010) has been largely overlooked. Much as bassist Dave Holland's thirteen-year-old quintet acts as the core for other projects, Liebman has recruited members of Dave Liebman Group for other projects, including his Dave Liebman Big Band, responsible for 2010's Live / As Always (MAMA Records). It's clear that the members of the group value the opportunity to work with Liebman; equally, he sees himself as having no small responsibility to keep things happening for the group.
"It's rare that we get to play almost every night for 12 daysand believe me, I don't take it lightly," says Liebman. "I'm very gratified that I'm able to get this for the guys and be able to put them to work. I'm very proactive as a leader, because to keep the same guyswhich, through thick and thin, I try to insist uponwe don't have a lot of work and we don't make a lot of money, so the only thing I have is that they're playing with me, and the challenge of this music. Because it's for the music. I'm not trying to make it like we're carrying a cross here, but it is for the music. My job with these three guys is to make it so that there's a challenge and a reason to come out and play with me.
"That truly has to be for the music," Liebman continues. "So I have to keep that in mind and keep things moving. I have a book that's bigger than most jazz groups in the world- -we have 80-100 tunesand I recycle here and there and change things. Basically, I really always want to keep the slant different. Right now I'm already thinking about what we're gonna do two years from now. We're in a completely different direction at the momentelectric bass only, Vic is playing a lot of colors and sounds, I am playing only soprano, and we are playing freer, sonicallya more rocky kind of vibe. I just finished with a whole cycle and I wanted to change the music, so that's our new sound for now."
Liebman has recently released Ornette Plus, a live recording that's only available at shows and as a digital download from his website. It features extended versions of three tunes from Turnaround, as well as a thrilling, 30-minute look at Juris' "Victim," first heard on Conversations. "'Victim,' Vic's tuneit's natural," Liebman enthuses. "I've been talking about this for the last year, and Vic, he's the main engineer; I've been talking about going in this direction and, for some reason, that night, 'Victim' got into that space a little bit. I'm just thinking of moving in a completely different direction because I want to have this group until the day I die, so I've gotta keep it going [laughs]!"
For those who've had the pleasure of meeting Juris, it's immediately clear that he's simply not interested in any of the games required to push his visibility to the next level; instead, his reputation continues to grow slowly, yet inexorably and inevitably, just as his own talent continues to evolve and expand. "I think, sometimes, some of it is synchronicity, the way the cookie crumbles," Liebman explains. "But some of it is certainly publicity and PR, and it all begins with the persona of the person. I'm not going to talk for Vic, but this is a guy who's one of the sweetest, nicest, calmest, gentlest, non-promotional guys of all time. And smartit's not like he doesn't know what's happening, it's not like he's drifting. He just doesn't want to take part in the gameit's all bullshit to him. And I must say that in my caseand I'm not comparing over the years, I didn't want to play ball with the guys, the companies. I just didn't wanna do it. I don't want to have anybody telling me what to do, and because of that, I'm hit or miss. I'm fine and I'm not complaining, but you must cede control somewhere, and if you're not that kind of personality, then most likely you're not gonna get above the radar.
"But you know what," Liebman continues. "When I went to the Village Vanguard, when I was a kid in the '60s, and I'd see Trane or Cannonball or Miles, or whatever, and I was 15 or 16 years oldwhen those guys walked into a club ... man, the vibe. They'd just walk to the stage and take their horn out, and everybodyguys like us would be so reverential, like: 'What's he thinkin'? What's he doin'? What'd he eat for dinner? He's the heavy cat in the room.' That's what I wanted to be. I didn't look at the guythe equivalent thenwho had the 5,000-person audience. I wanted to be the guy who was this underground heavy that everybody was almost afraid to talk to because of their skills. I always think of James Brown, when he said this so clearly, because he knocked around for a long time, and he said, 'Man, if you just keep knocking on enough doors, one will open.' That's it.
"We lead a great life, man," Liebman concludes. "We are surrounded by incredible, high-level music, with people who are, by and large, honestwho are into it, in it for the music. Any young person who goes into jazz is obviously not gonna be the next Sting. At the top of the line, if you do a Wynton [Marsalis] or a Herbie [Hancock] or something like that, that's like three guys, maybe five guys, and even that ain't that much compared to anybody in pop music. So you must go into this with a love of the music and the tradition, and that's very good, because it separates the people, the wheat from the chaff. As soon as I meet somebody in this music, I can be pretty sure that they're honest and sincere.
"This is probably one of the busiest times I've ever had. Some of it is self-induced because of the award; I'm using some of that money to reinvest in myself, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So that has raised my visibility a lotand, of course, the number of records released, and we just happen to have had a lot of work with the group this past fall. And Saxophone Summit has had some work. It will slightly slow down this year, but it's been hectic, and there has been some press, and I've finally got a little promotion."