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Steuart Leibig/Stigtette: Delta

Matt Cibula By

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This is not exactly a jazz album, nor is it really classical music. It's really both, and it's accessible, and—despite what you might be thinking—it's kind of adorable and good. If it was a bit more forceful, and if the tracks weren't all pretty much the same, this would be quite a great recording indeed.

These ten pieces feature three wind players over bandleader Steuart Liebig's "contrabassguitar" stylings. Most of the tracks are not songs so much as they are written-out minimalist compositions with free improv passages and pretentious titles. A perfect example of this is "Dynamite's Dionysian Dance." It begins with free bassoon noodling by Sara Schoenbeck with Liebig's percussive bass playing, but soon locks into a stern counterpointed refrain, which then melts into some duetting by flautist Ellen Burr, which then turns into a different refrain, which then gives way to Andrew Pask's clarinet solo, and... well, you get the picture, I hope.

This is not shrieking, crazy free stuff, it's not MJQ chamber jazz, and it's not fusion. Maybe it's fourth wave. But this music certainly does not lack in ambition, which is good in these unadventurous and troubling times. There is one fourteen-minute, seven-part suite called (natch) "Seven Dreams About Time," and another four-part piece called "KPRS," or maybe "Kprs" or "kprs." I'm not sure what distinguishes the pieces of these massive works from each other, but they're really long and intricate, and they flow very nicely, so they must have been a hell of a lot of work to lay down in the studio.

Overall, however, there's not much difference between any of these tracks. Sure, "Render" is incredibly fast, and "Cold Green Mystery" is slower and more pastoral, and "Hector" is a fanfare. But all of them pretty much follow the same template: staccato blips and bleeps from everyone, then a solo or duet passage, then more unison blips and/or bleeps, then someone else solos, then boom and the song's over and a new one that sounds just like it begins. Over the course of a 68-minute CD, it starts to wear down the critical listener in me.

But the casual listener in me likes it just fine, because everyone is a great player. The themes can be a bit chilly, but the solo work is quiet and controlled and full of what used to be called soul, especially when Burr lets herself go. I also like the way Liebig handles his guitar, although he tends to copy Tony Levin's Stick work a bit too much on, say, "Secret One-Hand Shake," and some other tracks. There is a pleasing darkness to the lighter sections, and the draggy stuff is still pretty airy, so that's all good. I would like to keep in touch with this project as it continues, because Liebig is a talented composer who just needs to develop some more tools and let himself breathe a little.

PS. This CD is also really good for making my infamous Mayan Curry Ricestravaganza on cold winter nights. This is not something to sneeze at. Good cooking music cannot be overrated.


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