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Dave Liebman Group at Café Paradiso

John Kelman By

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Dave Liebman Group
Café Paradiso
Ottawa, Canada
May 20-21, 2011
When saxophonist and recent NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman brought his longstanding group to Ottawa's Café Paradiso a little over three years ago in April, 2008, it was truly one of the hottest, most memorable shows this city has seen in years—if not ever. Now two decades old, with three of its original members—Liebman, guitar underdog Vic Juris and the equally underappreciated bassist Tony Marino—still around, and its fourth, powerhouse drummer Marko Marcinko, long beyond being the "new kid on the block," having spent ten years with the group, the continued appeal of Dave Liebman Group is, in part, undeniably about the chemistry that comes from a consistent lineup. But there are plenty of groups out there with longevity, that don't have the combination of firepower and finesse that Liebman has managed to retain with this ensemble.
In a recent All About Jazz interview, Liebman talked about how he keeps a group that only tours a few weeks a year together: "I'm very proactive as a leader, because to keep the same guys—which, through thick and thin, I try to insist upon—we don't have a lot of work and we don't make a lot of money, so the only thing I have is that they're playing with me, and the challenge of this music. Because it's for the music. I'm not trying to make it like we're carrying a cross here, but it is for the music. My job with these three guys is to make it so that there's a challenge and a reason to come out and play with me. "
For the group's return visit to Ottawa, Paradiso's owner, Alex Demianenko went a step further, not only booking Liebman for two nights, but making it a small tour that began in Montreal, continued in Quebec City and wrapped up at his club for the final two nights. It's that kind of lateral thinking that makes it possible for a group like Liebman's to come to a club like Paradiso, which is relatively small, seating a max of about 75 people. As ever, Paradiso is a wonderful place to catch a group in an intimate setting that's rare, even for clubs; sitting less than five feet away from the bandstand it's possible to see how the group interacts on the subtlest of levels. Despite its dividing half-wall running down the center of the club, lines of sight were largely fine for most attendees, and the sound was consistently excellent throughout the room—all the more surprising, given that, while Marino and Juris were amplified, there was no PA to speak of, other than a microphone for Liebman to speak into, and use when he occasionally brought out his wood flute.

Another reason that Dave Liebman Group has been around for so long is because the music never stays in one place for long. The last time the group was in Ottawa, it was a more acoustic affair—except, of course, for the kind of textural coloring that makes Juris an almost orchestral partner—with Marino solely on acoustic bass. In the same AAJ interview, Liebman explained: "I have a book that's bigger than most jazz groups in the world—we have 80-100 tunes—and I recycle here and there and change things. Basically, I really always want to keep the slant different. Right now I'm already thinking about what we're gonna do two years from now. We're in a completely different direction at the moment—electric bass only, Vic is playing a lot of colors and sounds, I am playing only soprano, and we are playing freer, sonically—a more rocky kind of vibe."

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