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Dave Liebman Group: Conversation

John Kelman By

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When an artist has as a wide musical viewpoint as saxophonist Dave Liebman, and has released so many albums in a 35-year career that touch on so many aspects of jazz—big band to solo, highly structured to free, acoustic to electric—one would think that there'd be little chance of surprise left.

Wrong. Released in '03, Conversation—featuring his steady '90s group with guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and, in this case, drummer/percussionist Marko Marcinko substituting for quartet regular Jamey Haddad—has clearly been overlooked. And that's a shame. In a time when fans are lauding artists like trumpeter Dave Douglas and guitarists Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny for their ability to intrepidly tackle a diversity of musical approaches, all the while retaining distinctive and recognizable voices, the truth is that Liebman has been doing this all along.

That's not to disrespect any of the aforementioned artists; only to suggest that based on Conversation, Liebman and his group deserve the same kind of attention. In addition to his ability to conjoin a variety of styles into something purely personal, the special relationship he has with guitarist Vic Juris has been instrumental in allowing him the freedom to pursue anything that grabs his attention.

Like those who consider him to be peers—Metheny, Scofield, Frisell, and Abercrombie—Juris' purview is greater than any one album can demonstrate, although on Conversation he's working with arguably his broadest sonic palette to date. His own contributions to the disc—"Shorty George," which, with its sharply angular and processed electric guitar, strummed acoustic, and insistent triplet over four rhythm, feels like an urban alternative to "Two Folk Songs" from Metheny's 80/81; and the aptly-titled "Softly Spoken," where Juris' classical guitar brings Ralph Towner to mind—show the kind of musical discourse Liebman refers to in the album's title. Elsewhere, on Liebman's "Anubis," Juris finds ways to fuse eastern and western harmonic and improvisational approaches.

As, of course, does Liebman. But, like Juris, that's only part of the picture. On last year's quartet release, In a Mellow Tone, Liebman wrote that, after disbanding the Miles and Coltrane-influenced band Quest in the late '80s, "the time had come for me to play and write more composed music with counter lines... eighth and odd meter rhythms, conveying... more tightly organized structures." Liebman's writing on Conversation is unquestionably more complex than the open-ended modal writing he did with Quest—just listen to the idiosyncratic stops and starts of the curiously funky "Tickle Bath," or the chamber jazz ambience of the dark-hued "Renewal," which features a searching arco solo from Marino and an enigmatic thematic core where improvisation and form are completely fluid.

But at the end of the day, despite more structure, it's all about freely spoken musical dialogue within in a variety of musical contexts that still retain a consistent philosophy. Conversation is an advanced work that ranks among Liebman's best and most adventurous; it's predictable only in its sheer un-predictability.

Visit Dave Liebman on the web.


Track Listing: Shorty George; Tickle Bath; Snow Day; On a Clear Day; Renewal; Anubis; Soft Spoken; Twelve, Over and Under; Conversation; Cosmos

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, tin whistle, Indian flute; Vic Juris: electric and acoustic guitars; Tony Marino: acoustic/stik bass; Marko Marcinko: drums, percussion; Caris Visentin: oboe (6), English horn (7).

Title: Conversation | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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