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David Liebman: Colors

AAJ Staff By

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Sure enough, the title of this record betrays the artist's vision, expressed through tunes inspired by the hues of the rainbow. But Colors is not Liebman Lite, make no mistake. These dozen solo tenor tracks are as serious as they come. But where other adventurous players use the solo setting as an opportunity to get furious and wild, David Liebman mostly respects his limits and pursues timbre and motion instead.

That said, it's important to be aware that control is often a synonym for restraint, witnessed here through a relatively precise approach to the instrument. When Liebman lays out a theme, he fleshes it out beyond skin and bone, adding muscle and heft where necessary, as on the overblown cries of "Black 1." His chops have never been in doubt, but what's most remarkable here is how he exploits every part of his horn. The aptly titled "White 1" gradually climbs out of soft breathing noises and light finger punctuation into stark, barely-voiced cries, only to retreat and ascend the gradual slope once again.

At quiet times like this you can fully appreciate the rich acoustics of the Banff Center, where the disc was recorded in the summer of 1998. The abundant bouncing reverations may put some listeners off, and fairly so, because they superimpose a layer of sound beyond what Liebman pulls out of his horn. But if you look at the big picture, it's apparent that he is fully aware of his acoustic environment, exploiting it as he rounds out phrases and pauses between notes.

As for the colors on the disc, the most memorable include the appropriately soulful strains of "Blue 1," with a touch of vibrato, a thick tone, and faint echoes of Ben Webster. "Red 2" has a decidedly swinging edge, pushing a relatively clean theme through successive rounds of embellishment and change, fluttering and trilling along. "Black 2" takes off where "Black 1" left off, starkly anguished and sharply blown. Its shrill, honking closure leads off abruptly into a second white field comprised of bare minimum blowing and popping sounds. It's somewhat ironic that Liebman never really hits full overdrive until the very end, a heated ball of energy called "Yellow 2." His pulses here again emphasize the hall's acoustics.

Liebman considers this record a companion to his soprano solo disc The Tree (Soul Note, 1990), and those in the know may find some interesting parallels. But Colors is by all means a stand-alone work, some of the most inventive and involving music Dave Liebman has ever recorded.

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