The passage of time has no meaning when it comes to the kind of intimate musical understanding that saxophonist David Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach have shared since first working together in the early '70s. They have collaborated on numerous group projects as well as a series of duet recordings that are in dire need of reissue. Perhaps their longest and most enduring group was Quest, a quartet that released half a dozen albums between 1981 and 1990.
Redemption - Quest Live in Europe documents a 2005 reunion, and in many respects it feels as if no time has passed. The chemistry shared with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart remains intact, but this is no backwards-looking get-together. Instead, it's a chance to hear where the past fifteen years have led these musicians, both individually and collectively.
Beirach and Liebman open with a duet take on Monk's "'Round Midnight," beginning in brief abstraction before finding its way to the familiar theme. A feeling of total spontaneity without a safety net pervades Liebman and Beirach's expansive examination of the tune's rhythmic, harmonic and thematic possibilities. Still, no matter how far they take it, what defines the tune is never far away.
Liebman and Beirach have always shared deep roots in the music of John Coltrane. Transcending mere reverence, however, Quest makes latter-day Coltrane's "Ogunde" its own through a more deeply lyrical approach to this tumultuous tone poem. McClure and Hart create a curiously understated maelstrom beneath Beirach's poignant melodism before leading into a more outgoing and extreme solo from Liebman. McClure's supple pizzicato support and visceral arco are a continuing reminder of how unfairly overlooked a player he remains.
Liebman's "WTC" is an abstract exploration into the emotional impact of the September 11 Word Trade Center attack. Dark and foreboding, the chemistry of the quartet gradually builds Liebman's abstruse yet unequivocal theme to a logical point where Beirach becomes the sole voice, segueing into "Steel Prayers," Beirach's mournful yet equally hopeful conclusion.
"Dark Eyes" is Quest at its most swinging, yet there's still an underlying sense of abandon. McClure is the fluid anchor beneath Leibman's powerful tenor, with Hart and Beirach pushing and pulling to create an ongoing tension and release. Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" becomes a rubato tone poem, with Liebman's wooden flute giving the piece an otherworldly feel.
The title track has been in the group's repertoire since the mid-'80s, but this twenty-minute version of Hart's tune is definitivea potent blend of free interaction, powerful rhythmic interplay and post-Coltrane modality.
It's uncertain whether or not Quest will continue to work together. Based on Redemption, however, it's clear that there's no shortage of inspiration to keep it a viable and vital concern.
'Round Midnight; Ogunde; WTC/Steel Prayers; Dark Eyes; Lonely Woman; Redemption.
David Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones, wooden flute; Richie Beirach: piano; Ron McClure: bass; Billy Hart: drums.