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Steuart Liebig: Quicksilver (2005)

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Steuart Liebig: Quicksilver How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

On this set bass guitarist Steuart Liebig shows none of his rock credentials and nearly no jazz affiliation. It's a set of European concert chamber music, thoroughly organised. It's hard to determine how much is improvised, how much written, how much just a filling in of sketches. Is this a compilation of recordings of various improvisations, rather than the recording of complex compositions which existed before the session?

This range of musical resources wasn't available to, say, Debussy, but its closest affinity is to Western concert chamber compositions which integrate matter from or imitate oriental and various folk musics from less far east. Sometimes you hear one, sometimes two, sometimes three of the performers in different permutations and doublings. Not all are heard on each of the 23 short sections of "Mosaic," but at moments of high excitement they're all working. The sections are called haiku; the central feel isn't Japanese but Western music trying to play decently Japanese. Yet although the bass guitar can play koto, and the flute be similarly oriental, the violins can sound like Bartok without a Hungarian accent, or maybe Britten. They seldom sound amplified. The jazz drum kit sounds merely like its import into a context like Ravel. The jazz rhythms are an import and not central.

There's no reason to call this music jazz when, for instance in the final number, the drive is strictly that of European dance or Asian ecstatic music, and Asia seems to rule, for all the flautist's ability to shrill and be edgy in no very oriental way. When especially duet passages, but also episodes of interaction crop up, the music is at its most interesting.

If vibes and bass-guitar seem unusual presences in post-1920 Western chamber music, this is quite singular, strange stuff. It's not crazy—far less unapproachable. The more conservative listener will undoubtedly feel simply puzzled, others intrigued.

Track Listing: 1-23. Mosaic, 23 sections (Liebig) 51:38; 24. Chrysanthemum (Liebig) 15:42; 25. A Single Rosehip Bursts in Praise (Liebig) 12:23.

Personnel: Personnel: Stuart Liebig (C, Eb and prepared contrabassguitars); Ellen Burr (flute, piccolo and alto flute); Jeff Gauthier (electric 4 and 5-string violins); Jeanette Kangas (drumset, percussion and vibraphone)

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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