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The David Liebman Trio: Lieb Plays the Blues a la Trane

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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There are few artists who can channel the spiritual fervour of John Coltrane better than Dave Liebman. Liebman was so deeply moved by Trane, that it took him two decades to renew a commitment to revisiting the legendary saxophonist's work. Liebman was so completely under Trane's spell that, by his own admission, it was like having a musical epiphany. Liebman has developed a voice so singular and unique that his broad tone on tenor saxophone and his plaintive, almost crushing wail on soprano mark him with one of the most distinctive styles of horn-playing in all of modern music. Liebman is, of course, rooted in modal music, but his approach is not quite as raw as Coltrane's. His honks and bleats are shorter; his lines more elastic (especially on the soprano), and he breathes the Lydian modes more exquisitely in the ebb-and-flow of his playing.

On Lieb Plays the Blues á la Trane, he burns with a discernible zeal for the blues, making the emotions of the deep blues all his own, with majestic storytelling. There is wailing, as well as the mercurial whoop for joy. Few can conjure the spirit of the blues like Liebman, because few artists have paid their dues and triumphed over human adversity the way the saxophonist has. Thus, there is a certain honesty; a deep sincerity in the manner of his playing. Liebman's playing—like Trane's—is the cry of a soul twisting and turning, as it negotiates life's travails. His caterwauling ululations on "Village Blues" is the most breathtaking sweep of emotions that might be heard on soprano saxophone for some time to come.

It is clearly Liebman's attempt to showcase the blues with Coltrane's feeling and fervor, thereby keeping the spirit of the musician alive. This he succeeds in doing by devoting his efforts to a sort of metaphysical (rather than musical) aspect of the blues. He does, however, translate metaphysics into music, in much the same way that poets like John Donne and Andrew Marvell did centuries ago. Liebman is actually an ancient soul who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the purity of experience through music. And it is this aspect of his artistry that makes him a kindred spirit to Coltrane, rather than the mundane similarities of playing the soprano and tenor saxophones.

For good measure, Liebman also adds some classic blues charts to this outing. For instance, there is Miles Davis' "All Blues," and Coltrane's mighty soulful drama, "Up Against the Wall," which is so fraught with dynamic tension that it is almost crystalline in tone and manner. For relief, there are "Mr. P.C.," Trane's tribute to bassist, Paul Chambers and "Take the Coltrane," a wonderful chart that Duke Ellington wrote for his classic date with Coltrane. All are examples which feature ingenious twists and turns at the hands of Liebman on this album of mighty blues.

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