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Dave Liebman: Ceremony

Victor L. Schermer By

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This exciting new album returns to the haunting evocative beauty of the origins of jazz rhythms but has a contemporary feeling infused into it by very sophisticated players of contemporary jazz and Latin music who give the album a special shine. While jazz matured within an eclectic mix of American music ranging from marching bands to gospel to ragtime, vaudeville, and musical theater, it is firmly rooted in its rhythmic intensity in the rituals and ceremonies of Africa and the Caribbean. This album returns to those roots.

Ceremonies consists of an unusual grouping of just one horn player, four percussionists and electric bass. It features the brilliant saxophone and flute playing of Dave Liebman backed by the legendary Oscar Stagnaro's electric bass and a team of outstanding percussionists playing a variety of drums, mostly of Cuban origin but harking back to the tribal rituals of the African continent. To capture the ceremonial effect, the album was recorded in a naturalistic way, with one binaural microphone in a church which provided richer resonance than a recording studio. The result is an ear- satisfying "living presence" in which the natural sonorities and timbres of the drums and reeds can be vividly heard.

The music itself is stripped of many of the trappings of modern jazz such as the standard swing syncopation, AABA choruses, and familiar tunes. Neither is it "avant-garde" nor is it by any means primitive. Headed up by Liebman's extraordinary mastery of and lasting contribution to the jazz syntax, the music is infused with modernity. The obvious influence in that respect is John Coltrane, two of whose compositions ("The Drum Thing" and "Tunji") are represented and who briefly experimented with Afro-Cuban sources. However, the hidden tribal chieftains whose spirits hover over the musical inventiveness articulated here are Duke Ellington, who transformed jazz into serious expression beyond entertainment, and the classical composer Bela Bartok, who developed the modal approach to music based on the naturally occurring sounds of folk music. Like much of Ellington's and Bartok's work, this album possesses an aesthetic purity that has a hypnotic effect on the listener, a conjuring of past lives of other times and places while fully alive and unique in the present moment of creation.

Two features of this album provide it with its special magic. One is the presence of several drummers, truly a "drum section" if you will. It is a rare pleasure to hear superb percussionists exchange well-crafted sonorities and rhythmic virtuosity with one another. They evoke both African and Cuban rhythms, with the emphasis shifting in the course of the album from the former to the latter. The drums are underpinned by Stagnaro's distinctly Afro-Cuban "tumbao" bass lines that also coincidentally carry some of Jaco Pastorius' lineage with them. Stagnaro's repetitive chants (which came to be called "riffs" during the swing era) establish a trance-like ostinato that evokes ancestral spirits.

Over and against this rhythmic intensity, Liebman weaves melody lines that "tell stories" that range from lamentations to ecstatic conversations. By using an imaginative "vocabulary" that has flavors of Coltrane, as well as Afro-Cuban melodies and European impressionism (think of Debussy and Ravel) with occasional modal alterations attributable to Bartok, Liebman achieves a compositional complexity and beauty that is spontaneous yet magnificently structured.

Track Listing: The Drum Thing; Tunji; Kulu Sé Mama (Juno Sé Mama); Ceremony: Morning; Ceremony: Afternoon; Ceremony: Evening; Tardes de Lindóia; Danza del Pájaro.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, wooden flute; Willy Rodriguez: drum set, percussion; Paolo Stagnaro: congas, batá, cajón, percussion, Iyá (1); Gabo Lugo: congas percussion, Itótele (1); Marcos López: timbales, percussion, Okónkolo (1); Oscar Stagnaro: electric bass

Title: Ceremony | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Chesky Records

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