David Liebman: Four Nights in Culver City

Chuck Koton By

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David Liebman Quartet
Jazz Bakery
Culver City, California
October 31 - November 3, 2007

Saxophone master David Liebman brought his eclectic style to the Jazz Bakery in Culver City and amply demonstrated the futility of applying labels to music. At times, Liebman is the progressive rocker who played with Ten Wheel Drive. At other times, he is the modal fusion player of the early 70s who performed so memorably in the bands of Elvin Jones and Miles Davis. Then again, Liebman may be in the mood to play in a juke joint blues style. Those Angelenos fortunate to be in the audience, and regrettably there weren't many until Saturday night, were treated to a real tour de force by Liebman on tenor and soprano saxophones and wood flute, with Vic Juris on electric guitar and Tony Marino on bass (both of whom have played with Liebman for over 15 years), and drummer and percussionist Marko Marcinko, who has been in the band since 2000.

On Wednesday night the band performed a composition dedicated to the people and the land Lieb encountered during his recent travels in the African nation of Mauritania. The song, "Dimi and the Blue Men, began with shimmering cymbals, then bowed bass, and floating guitar notes introducing the mystical and exotic North African desert, followed by Liebman's passionate tenor soaring over and exploring the timeless sands. Later, in order to indulge the jazz fans in the audience, the band played Hoagy Carmichael's practically equally timeless "Stardust," with a very "trippy opening by Juris and then Liebman's lush, breathy tone blowing the melody.

The following evening's highlight was a burning homage to Eddie Harris by guitarist Juris called "Compared to Who. Marcinko's propulsive drumming provided the relentless beat, Juris rocked, and Liebman wailed and growled on this funky blues.

Friday night's performance included Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman, which Liebman explored on wood flute. The band then slipped seamlessly into Miles Davis' "Black Satin, a funky, modal piece on which Liebman first thundered hurricane-like on tenor and later created expressionistic vistas of vast royal blue skies and pink sands with the exotic sounds of the soprano.

A good-sized audience finally attended the group's last shows on Saturday night, and the band responded with an electrifying intensity. Liebman's original "Riz's Blues is a three-part suite consisting of a minor, major, and dominant blues. Liebman really stretched out on this one, alternating from warm and mellow tones to intense, ecstatic shrieks that would have brought a smile to John Coltrane's face. His tenor solo was a remarkable combination of searching complexity and searing emotional directness. Another highlight of the evening was a song called,"Shorty George by Vic Juris. Lieb informed the audience that the term "Shorty George was often used in the Basie band to refer to a sexual interloper who would sneak in to the bedroom when a musician was on the road. Well, bassist Marino began by bowing and slapping the bass, almost tearing the strings as if he had returned home just in time to catch ol' Shorty sneaking out the backdoor. The band closed the engagement with Coltrane's "My Favorite Things, much to the delight of the audience.

Since soloists often come out here alone and pick up local rhythm sections, Los Angeles jazz audiences miss out on hearing bands that perform and record together on a regular basis. There are many excellent musicians here in L.A., but with limited rehearsal time it is very difficult to perform original music as well as original arrangements of standards as effectively as a working band. The David Liebman Group was able to take advantage of their many years of collaboration to bring their distinctive musical flavors to the West Coast for us to savor.


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