Steuart Liebig has championed creative improvised music in Southern California for more than a decade. Seeing him in a live performance, you quickly realize that his ensembles are all about teamwork and cohesiveness. His passion spreads all around the room as Liebig and his bandmates explore each theme with a fresh aura. It's contagious. Before long, you find yourself stomping and tapping to the music as it winds its way through powerfully built themes and highly rhythmic episodes.
On Quicksilver, each member of Liebig's improvising quartet works collectively as well as individually. As leader, the bassist encourages each of his partners through interaction in their ensemble setting. They explore his written themes and follow his rough guidelines, while adding parallel statements of their own.
He takes his turn at the solo mic with expressive tirades that range from bombastic to downright eerie. A veteran bassist, Liebig worked with Les McCann for three years and moved in and out of various rock bands for a time. It's his experience with Julius Hemphill, however, that seems to have made the largest impact on the bassist's direction. Creative music takes to him naturally, with a world of fresh ideas at his feet.
Drummer Jeanette Kangas (formerly Jeanette Wrate) adds a powerful force to the quartet's voice on vibraphone. The mysticism of her vibes on the twelfth movement of "Mosaic" sets an incredibly dramatic tone. Elsewhere, she provides a dreamy quality that sets the mood appropriately. Three minutes into "A Single Rosehip Bursts in Praise," and again further on, she brings an intense and varied percussion quality to the ensemble that swings the unit, however briefly, with unquestionable fire.
Violinist Jeff Gauthier takes his time with a melody, stretching it out for maximum exposure and releasing it only when he's exhausted all of its energy. A highly charged artist with amazing technique, he provides the quartet with dynamism and flexibility. When he and flutist Ellen Burr move excitedly in unison, it's obvious that their relationship comes about intuitively. Without missing a step, the pair releases a long, exciting string of stretched ideas. They bring the sound of chamber music, as well, to this fascinating avant-garde affair.
While the program contains much space and quiet reflection, its effect never fades. Liebig leaves holes in his quartet's presentation that halt its momentum, however, and leave the audience in limbo, waiting for an influx. The session leaves spaces for pensive exercises and daydreaming. Nevertheless, Quicksilver has its fiery moments and pushes the envelope in new and exciting directions.
Personnel: Steuart Liebig- C, E-flat, & prepared contrabass guitars; Ellen Burr- flute, piccolo, alto flute; Jeff Gauthier- electric 4- & 5-string violins; Jeanette Kangas- drums, percussion, vibraphone.