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Dave Liebman/Michael Stephens: Lineage: Rock and Pop Classics Revisited

Dan McClenaghan By

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Saxophonist Dave Liebman was yet another musician drawn into the orbit of trumpeter Miles Davis, contributing to the always innovative master band leader's extraordinary and ground breaking—but underappreciated and even maligned at its time of release—On the Corner (Columbia Records, 1972), as well as Dark Magus (Columbia Records, 1974) and Get Up With It (Columbia Records, 1974). Then, like so many others—saxophonists Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, pianist Herbie Hancock, drummers' Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, to name just a handful—Liebman, a changed man for the Davis experience, left that orbit on his own trajectory, to become one of our premier inside/outside jazzers with scores of releases under his own name, including outstanding (but distinctively his own) homages to Davis and alto saxophonist/free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman.

So Lineage, a teaming with drummer Michael Stephens, a Liebman contemporary, and three young up-and-coming players, delving into rock and pop tunes of the late fifties and early sixties may come as a surprise.

Dave Liebman was born in 1946. That means he would have encountered the 1963 surf/rock hit, "Wipe Out," by the Surfaris, when he was 17 years old. The saxophone/rock rave up, "Tequila" came out in 1958. Liebman would have been about 12 years old, an age where many young people discover music. Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" came out in '56. You get the idea.

Liebman and Stephen's idea for this Lineage was a re-visitation of the popular songs they had been drawn to in their younger days, and deconstructing then re-harmonizing, and generally reshaping them under the umbrella of the ideas that Liebman has been employing in jazz for the past forty years.

In case you're wondering—and because it sounds as if it wouldn't—it works, amazingly well.

"Mr. Sandman," a sweet and goofy tune, recorded and released by the Chordettes in 1954, seems the least likely of vehicles for a jazz treatment. Stephens's shuffling drums accompany Liebman's soprano sax, playing the melody straight, until pianist Bobby Avey stretches out, taking the mood from gentle whimsey to serious improvisation. The Beatles get two nods: "Eleanor Rigby" and "Here, There and Everywhere." The former, with Liebman on wooden flute, opens with an Eastern atmosphere. Switching to soprano sax, Liebman keeps the melody recognizable until guitarst Vic Juris—a veteran of Liebmans's jazz quartet—steps out with an elastic acoustic solo. On "Here, There and Everywhere," one of the loveliest tunes in the Lennon/McCartney songbook, Liebman switches to tenor sax, introducing the tune on a tender note before he surges into wild and wooly territory, with distinctively Liebman-esque growls and roars over a backdrop of Avey's cool organ flow.

And there's "Woodstock, singer/songwriterJoni Mitchell's late sixties anthem that Liebman and the band lead into dark and foreboding territory.

Lineage, taking familiar pop tunes and turning them inside out, with reverence, is an excellent addition to the extensive Dave Liebman discography.

Track Listing: Mr. Sandman; Eleanor Rigby; Visions; Tequila; I Only Have Eyes for You; Walk, Don't Run; Woodstock; Wipe Out; Here, There and Everywhere; Love Me Tender.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones, wooden flute; Evan Gregor: electric and acoustic bass; Vic Juris: electric and acoustic guitars; Bobby Avey: acoustic and electric piano, organ; Michael Stephens: drums, percussion; Matt Vashlisan: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, EWI, clarinet.

Title: Lineage: Rock and Pop Classics Revisited | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Whaling City Sound

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