Dave Liebman Group: Ottawa, Canada May 20-21, 2011
Juriswhose Omega is the Alpha (Steeplechase, 2010) was released late in the year, but still made it into at least one 2010 Best of Listwas a marvel throughout the two evenings, playing with the kind of effortless invention and open ears that made him an ideal accompanist, whether it was strumming fervently on his own "Folk Song," adding electronic textures to Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," from the group's award-winning Turnaround (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010), or driving a riff home on his "Romulan Ale," first heard on the Liebman Group's In a Mellow Tone (ZOHO, 2004), but revisited recently on Omega. An endlessly inventive soloist, with an effortless mastery of his instrument few can matchwhether executing mind-boggling intervallic leaps or creating cascading harmonicsJuris, like the rest of the group, truly manages to approach the material differently each and every time, something Ottawa fans who attended both evenings got to experience. While the four sets by no means repeated themselves, there was a handful of tunes Liebman called on both nights, including Juris' "Folk Song," the title track to Liebman's Dream of Nite (Verve, 2007), and the saxophonist's "Smokin' at the Café," an altered blues that was a great way to loosen the group up at the start of each night.
From left: Vic Juris, Tony Marino, Dave Liebman, Marko Marcinko
Liebman was, as ever, an equally endless fountain of ideas, and with all four sets running longeach clocking in around 90-minute mark (clearly this group came to play)and with only six tunes per set, there was plenty of opportunity for extended soloing, though the group always managed to avoid any semblance of excess. Instead, the interplay amongst the members was so compelling, and the fun they were having so obvious and infectious, that the sets seemed to pass by in an instant. And while Liebman was relentlessly impressive on the more energetic piecescombining remarkable tonal and textural control with the kind of ideaphoric abandon that seemed near-reckless but, as his solos developed with remarkable focus, clearly was nothe also proved himself a master of deeper lyricism on his balladic "Breath," from his duo record with Australian pianist Mike Nock, Duologue (Birdland, 2007).
Marcinko's a hard-working drummer who deserves far greater recognition. His ability to mirror Liebman or Juris rapid-fire note for rapid-fire note was matched by his locking, in-the-pocket, with Marino on tracks like the Spanish-tinged "Mesa D'espana," from Liebman's tribute to former employer, trumpeter Miles Davis, Back On the Corner (Tone Center, 2007). He soloed rarely, and while those occasions were as exciting and dynamic as would be expected, it was his ensemble work that, ultimately, was more impressive. Like the rest of his band mates, he worked from structural roadmaps, but with a free and unhindered approach that made even the most familiar material fresh, like the group's cover of Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia"reharmonized and delivered with shifting bars of ten and four. And, like the rest of his band mates, Marcinko may have turned the heat and volume up at times, but he was equally capable of turning on a dime, dynamically, and bringing the music down to a near-whisper.
The emphasis was on original musicmost from Liebman and Juris, but also including Marino's "Anthracite," referencing the coal mining of which Pennsylvanians like Marino and Marcinko were all too familiar, and which became a running joke throughout the first set on Friday ("Clean coal, clean coal," Marcinko quipped as Liebman introduced the song). But Liebman, whose introductions to the tunes provided plenty of insight, also ensured that the tradition which underscores everyone in the group was never forgotten, calling out material from Coleman, Gillespie and Jobim, albeit radically reworked.
If there was a hidden gem in the group for these two nights, however, it was Marino, a largely quiet partner whose playing across all four sets, was particularly impressive. As fine as he was last time in town, this time it seemed like he'd lept to a new level, on both instruments. Whether pushing a hard acoustic groove on the Americana-tinged "Folk Song," echoing Juris with an octave-divided electric bass on "Romulan Ale," or playing it entirely free on a track from Liebman's ElementsWater (Arkadia, 1999), he combined astute technicality with unfailing musicality.