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Dave Liebman: Live/As Always

Bruce Lindsay By

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Dave Liebman, whether in the role of leader or sideman, works across styles and genres with an open mind and inventive approach. Live/As Always finds the saxophonist in top form, working with his 18-piece Big Band on a set of six original compositions. The band, directed by Gunnar Mossblad, is also at the top of its game and the arrangements, produced by five different arrangers including Mossblad, are fresh and stylistically varied.

The album was recorded live—four tunes at the University of Colorado in 2005 and two at the University of Toledo, Ohio in 2007. Sound quality is excellent—well-balanced, clear and crisp—ensuring that all sections of the band can be heard distinctly. Such sound quality is crucial to any big band recording, even more so when the instrumentalists in every section are so finely in tune with each other.

When Liebman guested with pianist Bobby Avey's trio on A New Face (jayDell Records, 2010) his playing, while excellent, threatened at times to overwhelm the band. There's no risk of that in the big band context—Liebman's soprano may take center stage, but never dominates the ensemble playing. Where Liebman does dominate are his solos: fiery and intense, they fly out of the speakers with a power that few contemporary musicians can match. That's not to say that his band mates don't try, of course. Although Liebman is listed as the "featured soloist," there are some opportunities for other musicians in the band to stretch out, and they happily take those chances.

"As Always" has a rich and somewhat nostalgic feel, reminiscent of George Gershwin in its opening bars, with Pete McGuinness' waltz arrangement offering Liebman a chance to play more romantically than elsewhere on the disc. Liebman wrote the up-tempo "New Breed" when he was in drummer Elvin Jones' band in the early '70s; Scott Reeves' arrangement creates some tight, driving ensemble work from the horns, while pianist Jim Ridl's solo is light and fluid.

"Turn It Around" centers on Marko Marcinko's fine drummin,g and features more terrific ensemble horn playing as well as a precise, though fairly brief, solo from guitarist Vic Juris. Guri Agmon's arrangement captures the tune's rhythmic complexity, but also creates a fun, funky and immediately accessible sound. The charmingly titled and beautiful "Philippe Under the Green Bridge" is a triumph, with Mossblad's arrangement demonstrating an eclecticism that brings together elements of Western classical music, improvisation and classic big band jazz, while oboist Charles Pillow trades phrases with Liebman in some energetic and involving interplay. Philippe, by the way, is a toy frog owned by Liebman's daughter, Lydia.

While the economics of a big band may be problematic these days, the power of a confident and talented large ensemble is undiminished. On Live/As Always Liebman, his arrangers and his fellow musicians, undeniably demonstrate this power, entertainingly and with breathtaking ability.

Track Listing: A Bright Piece; As Always; Anubis; New Breed; Philippe Under the Green Bridge; Turn It Around.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone, wooden flute; Gunnar Mossblad: director, alto and soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet; Charles Pillow: alto saxophone, oboe, flute; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; David Lown: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jay Brandford: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet (1, 2, 4, 6); Chris Karlic: baritone saxophone, clarinet (3, 5); Danny Cahn: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bob Millikan: trumpet, flugelhorn; DaveBallou: trumpet, flugelhorn; Patrick Dorian: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tim Sessions: trombone; Scott Reeves: trombone, alto flugelhorn; Sam Burtis: trombone; Jeff Nelson: bass trombone; Jim Ridl: piano, synthesizer; Vic Juris: guitar; Tony Marino: bass; Marko Marcinko: drums.

Title: Live/As Always | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: MAMA Records

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