The Puzzle is the terrfic follow-up recording by David Liebman's new group, Expansions, the first being Samsara.
No sophomore jinx here; if anything, the group has coalesced further and is even tighter. To throw out a (perhaps meaningless) label, this music could be called hyper-bop in its mix of well-placed dissonance, rhythmic displacements and the pure joy of blowing. Yes, it can get heady, but this music is anything but sterile and passion, of either high or low energy is always palpable. Music is meant to communicate emotion through sound, and The Puzzle most certainly does that, albeit in an entirely different way than say, pianist Lucian Ban's latest, Songs From Afar.
The very title indicates the mindset of this group, which feels more like a cooperative than one led by soprano saxophonist extraordinaire Liebman. The descriptions given of the compositions, (four by Liebman, two arranged by him; one by keyboardist Bobby Avery, two by reedman/flutist Matt Vashlishan and two by bassist Tony Marino).
There is always a strong sense of construction and thought in the music, but this is an undertone to the complete freedom that is apparent within this structure. Individually, and as a group, these players are at the top of their game, creating the excitement that is always present in the best jazz when everyone is listening closely in the moment to what is happening, but taking chances with the assurance based on experience that the others will follow, support and take it from there.
When the group gets cooking it can get smoking hot, as, for example, in the center section of "The Puzzle." The temperature, but not the inner intensity, can also be brought down as in Liebman's "Vendetta," which was composed in response to a "vendetta-like" action against him by a person he admired. A similar, but not as anguished, mood can be heard in "Off Flow," an older Liebman composition inspired by the music of Hermeto Pascoal, and Vashlishan's "Sailing." Then again, "Good Bait" by Tadd Dameron and Count Basie swings like the dickens.
As with the previous album, which ended with the driving title tune, this one ends with the intense, and not a little terrifying "Dans De La Fleur (Dance of Fury)," composed by Olivier Messiaen and arranged by Liebman, clearly showing a deep understanding of how to mix structure and freedom.
So, strap yourself in and let The Puzzle take you for a ride.
Hat Trick; For J.A.; Vendetta; Good Bait; Sailing; The Puzzle; Off
Flow; Continues to Ignore; Off and Off; The Thing that Wouldn’t
Leave; Danse de la Fureur
Dave Liebman: leader, soprano saxophone, wooden recorder; Matt
Vashlishan: clarinet, flute, alto saxophone, straw, EWI; Bobby Avey:
acoustic piano; electric keyboard; Tony Marino: acoustic, electric
bass; Alex Ritz: drums, frame drum.
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