Renewal is the brilliant follow-up to Different But The Same (Hatology, 2003), the debut of saxophonists Dave Liebman and Ellery Eskelin's co-led quartet. Initially perceived as a curious pairing, with Liebman the conservative elder to Eskelin's liberal youth, the two tenors actually share numerous aesthetic similarities, including an affinity for both inside and outside playing. Although separated by a generational divide, they have longstanding ties; Eskelin studied with Liebman in the early eighties.
Liebman's stalwart bassist Tony Marino and Eskelin's frequent collaborator, drummer Jim Black form the reliable rhythm section. The quartet continues to skirt the tenuous divide between free jazz and post-bop, a delicate balancing act they accomplish with vivacious aplomb. A varied set, Renewal features two tunes apiece from the session co-leaders, one each from Black and Marino, a freely improvised ballad and two enthralling takes of Eric Dolphy's classic "Out There."
Much as they did on their debut, Liebman and Eskelin continue to confound stylistic preconceptions. A complementary pair with an uncanny flair for spontaneous harmonies, they elicit untapped aspects from each other with a conversational acumen that avoids hackneyed tenor duels and cutting contests.
Liebman's early studies with Lennie Tristano and Charles Lloyd cemented his mastery of chord changes and traditional forms well before his apprenticeship with Miles Davis in the early seventies, yet his predilection for more exploratory avenues has always hovered in the margins. In the company of like-minded peers, he is joyously unrestrained; he even surpasses Eskelin in intensity with his impassioned solo on the ebullient opener, "Cha."
A veteran of the nascent Knitting Factory scene, Eskelin is renowned as a wild and wooly free improviser, yet his lyrical and harmonic contributions in the company of Liebman are masterfully sublime as he orbits melodic niches with focused moderation.
A pliant rhythm section, Black and Marino veer from roiling intensity to cool understatement. Their raging coda on Black's infectious "Cha" brims with punk rock energy, as Marino's hyperkinetic pizzicato fuels Black's throttling palpitations. The title track is the inverse, an introspective ballad feature for Marino's sinewy bass, tempered with soulful restraint from the horns.
Despite their relatively limited palette, the quartet embraces a wide range of territory. Inspired by a recent trip to Mauritania, Liebman's modal travelogue "Dimi and the Blue Man" ebbs with rich North African harmonies and colorful percussive accents. Eskelin's multi-sectional "The Decider" ranges from somber introspection to brusque, angular free jazz, while the two tenors' circuitous interaction reaches a fevered pitch on the petulant "IC." Stretching the bounds of tradition, Marino's 10 bar blues "Palpable Clock" saunters with a languorous Mingus-like fervor.
As an exploration of the limitless potential found in the two tenor quartet format, Renewal is a stunning example of modern jazz that straddles the line between freedom and form by musicians who transcend expectations.
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