Five on One features five of the most renowned artists in modern jazz working together as a cooperative ensemble under the name Contact. Saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart transcend the aesthetic limitations of many similar all-star gatherings with their complementary sensibilities, garnered over the years in various configurations.
Although this is the first time all five musicians have worked together, their paths have crossed many times before, most recently on Copland's Another Place (Pirouet, 2008). Abercrombie and Liebman were founding members of the early seventies fusion septet Lookout Farm, while the saxophonist and Hart performed together in the late eighties acoustic quartet Quest. Liebman and Copland have worked in duo and quartet formations in the recent past, with Gress and Hart regularly appearing as sidemen in the pianist's various trios.
A truly collaborative effort, each artist strives for synchronous accord within the collective without abandoning his own personal strengths and idiosyncrasies. Copland delves beyond his usual introspective romanticism, occasionally probing deeper into more expressionistic territory. Abercrombie and Liebman, renowned for their stylistic diversity, wax lyrical across a wide dynamic rangefrom stately to spiritedwith understated support provided by Gress and Hart, whose longstanding rapport is infused with a subtle, refined intensity.
Writing duties are split amongst the group, with Abercrombie contributing three of eight originals. The guitarist's buoyant "Sendup" opens the date with a lilting air, framing Liebman's darting soprano against a mosaic of silvery fretwork and Copland's cascading filigrees, as Gress and Hart modulate through variable tempos and meters with nuanced precision. Trafficking in stark, fervent territory, the follow-up, "Like It Never Was" reveals the group's emotional range on a melancholic blues dirge. Copland's free-falling sentiments are amplified by Liebman and Abercrombie at the coda with a simmering urgency that builds to a roiling burnan aesthetic mirrored on the similarly ardent "My Refrain."
Briefly stepping into avant-garde territory, Abercrombie's pithy free-bop number, "Four on One" careens with brisk Ornettish abandon. Effervescent ballads, like "Childmoon Smile" and "Lullaby for Imke" offer dynamic contrast, showcasing the ensemble's poetic sophistication and sensitivity. But it is the album's epic finale, a subtly deconstructed, unsentimental reading of the American Songbook favorite "You and the Night and the Music" that reinforces the quintet's interpretive prowess. Recast as a dark modal vamp, the quintet ascends from ethereal impressionism to roiling fervor, with Liebman's turbulent tenor instigating a series of potent statements from each member of the group.
The egalitarian nature of this quietly intense summit is magnified by the participants' natural congeniality, with no single artist dominating the proceedings. Lending credence to their name, Contact embodies the finer aspects of collaboration, making Five on One a stellar example of modern mainstream jazz.
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