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Contact: Dave Liebman / John Abercrombie / Marc Copland / Drew Gress / Billy Hart: Five on One

Dan McClenaghan By

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The band called Contact is about as all-star an affair as can be found in modern jazz, and it's hard to imagine any serious listener not having a favorite among the players, whether it's saxophonist and renaissance man Dave Liebman, pianist Marc Copland—whose marvelous New York Trio Recordings pushed his profile up closer to where it belongs—ECM Records stalwart/guitarist John Abercrombie, veteran drummer Billy Hart, or ubiquitous super sideman/bassist Drew Gress. Five on One burns brightly, with a highly cohesive chamber ensemble sound, with no star outshining the others.

Writing assignments are passed around, starting with Abercrombie's lilting "Sendup." It's an optimistic sound, with Liebman, on soprano sax, weaving sweet lines around Copland's light-stepping piano dance, as Hart lays down a gentle and intricate orchestral wash. Gress' "Like It Never Was" explores and inward and interactive ensemble groove, with Liebman wielding a particularly robust tenor saxophone that gathers the group up to a wailing rock energy crescendo before the tune tapers down and drifts off into the ether.

Copland's "Childhood Smile" highlights the pianist's characteristic light touch, which feathers dreamily along in front of the group's nuances and light sonic caresses.

The Caris Visitin/Dave Liebman-penned "Lost Horizon" seems to float like a low, diaphanous morning fog, three feet above the surface of the Earth, as Copland explores the twilight zone, Liebman's soprano cries out like a lonely bird, and Gress, with amazing subtly, shows why he is such an in-demand bassist.

The group takes things way out to the edge with Abercrombie's "Four on One," with Copland surprisingly percussive. Gress' "Like It Never Was" opens with a smoldering momentum that gathers to raging blaze of controlled burn, with Liebman and Abercrombie shredding.

Hart's "Lullaby for Imke" was written, obviously for a gentle and beautiful soul. The music is just that, with tenorist Liebman blowing with achingly heartfelt beauty, as Copland and Abercrombie accompany with grace and shimmering elegance.

The group could have wrapped it up right there for a top shelf effort, but goes after the Great American Songbook jewel, "You and the Night and the Music," to close the show. It is a free-ranging take on the tune, the ensemble noodling slowly into the familiar melody, and then winding it up for a rollicking ride of searing ensemble interplay and Liebman's raw tenor saxophone sound.

Five on One is one of those rare all-star efforts that exceeds expectations, and will certainly be tagged for "Best of the Year" lists.

Visit Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, Marc Copland, Drew Gress and Billy Hart on the web.


Track Listing: Sendup; Like It Never Was; Childmoon Smile; Four on One; Lost Horizon; Retractable Cell; My Refrain; Lullaby for Imke; You and the Night and the Music.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones; John Abercrombie: guitar; Marc Copland: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Title: Five on One | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Pirouet Records

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