Dave Liebman is forever restless. An extremely emotional and expressive player, he has formed, after 20 years in a group featuring guitarist Vic Juris, the new group Expansions, purposefully bringing in and connecting with players of the younger generation. Adapting himself to their harmonic language and rhythmic patterns, he continues to expand and grow, resulting in the superb album Samsara.
The new group includes bassist Tony Marino, with whom he has a twenty year relationship, and three adept and original young players -keyboardist Bobby Avey, reed man Matt Vashlishan and drummer Alex Ritz. He knew Avey and Vashlishan from many interactions in his local area, and Ritz was recommended by other drummers with whom he had worked.
The group has obviously developed great rapport, because while Liebman always leans towards free improvising, the music is tight as a drum. Avey and Vashlishan push Liebman as much as he leads them, and Ritz reacts instantly to any and all twists and turns, while Marino always seems to know what to do, and when to do it.
Liebman is just as likely to play an achingly beautiful line as he is to shriek or erupt with a blizzard of notes. The free sections are bound by those with (a usually complex) groove, making the music quite accessible. Stylistically, the music lies between modern post-bop and the avant-garde, as high energy (though always under control) pieces alternate with melodic and/or tonal ones. Thus, Expansions' music is quite accessible by most everyone. Listeners experienced with the modern, more experimental side of jazz will feel quite at home and just might hear echoes of the music of say, Greg Osby or Loren Stillman.
Avey and Vashlishan helped produce the record and did the editing and mixing. They are central to Samsara's sound; an Avery composition "Simply" opens the album and the title tune "Samsara" by Vashlishan, closes it. Every track, even such melodic ones as "Sivad" or "Searcher 2" is quite intense, producing a pacing that builds to the highly emotional "Child Refugee" and the smoking "Samsara." While Avey's keyboards provide the harmonic foundation and spice, Vashlishan is Liebman's partner and foil; they trade lines many times, as well as producing contrapuntal harmony.
Samsara is exciting music, and from the opening notes of "Simply" to the last notes of "Samsara," one cannot turn away. Simply fantastic.
Dave Liebman: soprano saxophone, wooden flute; Bobby Avey: piano,
electric piano; Matt Vashlishan: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute;
Tony Marino: electric bass, acoustic bass; Alex Ritz: drums, frame
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