Recorded live at John Zorn's New York City experimental jazz club The Stone in May of 2018, the trio of saxophonist extraordinaire Dave Liebman and multi-instrumentalists/percussionists Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph use their album Chi to present amazing tone poems and dynamic musical explorations.
Liebman's full-throated saxophone voicings juxtapose with Drake and Rudolph's rolling drums and percussion instruments, which splatter and bounce like great waves hitting the rocks off Maui. The interaction is driven by the percussionists, and, as they pick up momentum, Liebman's lines become arcing and prolific. When the two percussionists are playing together as a duet, the music bends along a poly-rhythmic line.
Rudolph explains in the liner notes the process undertaken during the performance: "Chi is what the Taoists describe as vital energy.... Chi animates all the frequencies of vibration, from a stone to a thought, from subatomic activity to the spiral of galaxies. It is our very own breath, blood and electricity."
The music certainly approximates Chi in every phrase, beat, and outburst. On both "Emergence" and "Whirl," a dance ensues, as Liebman spins lines on soprano sax over the bouncy rhythms. "Emergence" also features Liebman's wooden recorder while "Whirl" adds Rudolph's repeating motif on the sintir (a three stringed skin-covered bass plucked lute that is used by the Gnawan, who inhabit regions of North Africa).
"Flux" hops about, like a rabbit surprised by a fox. Liebman's phrases leap and bound and stutter over the terrain laid out by the percussiona system of ruts, grooves, and ridges. As the song reaches the midway point, Liebman solos with an electronic echo that resonates as though he were atop a crest of an expansive canyon. About halfway through another tune, "Continuum," the percussionists improvise below Liebman's dit-dot and roller-coaster sound collages.
Nothing quite sets the table though for "Formless Form." Here musical space is curved and a straight line is no longer the fastest path. Instead, like light reflecting off a pond, the music seems to refract and diffuse in mysterious and engaging ways.
If vital energy is the goal, Chi certainly achieves it. Gorgeously engineered, the album provides a record of one night's stunning discoveries of sound, space and time.
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