No Fast Food In Concert
is rife with all sorts of footnotes and fascinating jazz lineages. But, one can simply enjoy it without being a fact-obsessed music nerd such as me; the first track, a truly pretty-but-not-precious waltz titled "Dawn on the Gladys Marie" is evidence enough of the simple universality of great music. There's a certain inevitability about the personnel involved here. Phil Haynes
and Drew Gress
have played together as members of each others' bands for decades. They've been the rhythm section of choice for forward-looking artists such as Gebhard Ullmann
, Ellery Eskelin
and Paul Smoker
. Both are seasoned-yet-open-minded players who've proved definitively that the parallel worlds of free improvisation and mainstream modern jazz are not mutually exclusive. Haynes' and Gress' discographies as leaders are impressively varied, encompassing everything from hip brass band music (e.g., Haynes' 4 Horns & What
, Open Minds Records, 1991) to jazz adaptations of country tunes, to brainy, complex contemporary jazz (e.g., Gress' The Sky Inside
, Pirouet Records, 2013). Dave Leibman
, a veteran of Miles Davis' 70s era electric ensembles and a long-time practitioner of cutting-edge jazz, is almost a generation older than either Gress or Haynes. Yet, he continues to push the outside of the musical envelope; innovation is his raison d'etre
, and transgression is his modus operandi
The music on In Concert
is culled from two very different gigs played by the same band on consecutive nights in two different venues. Any working musician will know that one's approach to a particular live performance is shaped by numerous external and internal factors; the size and shape of the room, the size and mood of the audience, and the day-to-day changes that normally take place amongst the players. For whatever reason, the music on disc one is more contemplative and played at a lower dynamic level, albeit with no less intensity. With a few exceptions (e.g., "The Code"), drummer / composer Haynes plays largely with brushes, mallets and bare hands. Liebman's tone is hushed and intimate, and Gress is free to wander. "Last Dance" is a case in point; the piece starts off with Gress' solo bass (sounding here a bit like the late Charlie Haden
). Haynes provides some bizarre counterpoint by squeaking his fingers on the surfaces of his drums, while Liebman plays the tune's lovely melody. The trio lets the music unfold slowly, savoring every moment as the piece reaches its climax. This is the sound of listening.
The second disc, comprised of a completely different set of tunes, is noticeably more extroverted and ebullient, digging deep into a post- Coltrane free-bop bag; recalling at times one of Liebman's past projects, such as the co-operative trio Open Sky. Conceptually "Zen Lieb" takes off where disc one leaves off: long tones, space, and eerie sounds framing Liebman's reedy flute. Spurred on by Liebman's ebullient tenor, the trio basically takes off on "Out of the Bowels" and never lets up. Hayne's unmuffled bass drum evokes Elvin Jones
on "Workin' It," which constitutes familiar territory for Liebman who worked with Jones off and on for a decade or more. The trio dials it back a bit on "Chant," all pattering percussion over long bass and saxophone tones.
On the surface, No Fast Food In Concert
is a freewheeling free-bop album by an musically flexible trio of masters hellbent on dealing beauty. They cover a lot of stylistic ground, even on just one disk, from ballads to howling post-Albert Ayler
explorations ("The Code"), and all points between. But there are two discs in this set! It's the sort of inside / outside jazz that you can listen to for 2+ hours without fatigue.
Set 1: Dawn on the Gladys Marrie; West Virginian Blues; Together;
Last Dance; The Code; Ballad du Jour; Set 2: Zen Lieb; Out of the
Bowels; Workin’ It; Blues for Istrael; Incarnation; Chant; Encore du