Finding one's inspiration in an iconic figure like John Coltrane presents a huge challenge for any musician. The sheer scope of the master's vision and the uniqueness of his instrumental voice can become overwhelmingparticularly if the ultimate aim is to forge one's own path. But over a long and highly accomplished career, Dave Liebman has managed to do just that, even if it meant that for a time he had to break free of Coltrane's shadow by setting aside his tenor sax in favor of the soprano, allowing him to cultivate his individuality more decisively. On Selflessness, his latest offering from his regular working group, Expansions, he sticks with the straight horn on this fine tribute to Coltrane, helped by some crafty arrangements of nine well-selected tunes.
The repertoire runs the gamut of Coltrane's output. "Lazy Bird" comes from the Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957) session, while "My Favorite Things," "Olé" and "Mr. Day" are all from the late 1950s/early 1960s Atlantic years. Finally, the later Impulse! work is also represented, with "Dear Lord," "Compassion" and the title track drawn from some of Coltrane's most searching, spiritually focused music. Liebman is in top form throughout, from the charging opener, "Mr. Day" on which his biting solo pulses with energy, to "Dear Lord," the gorgeous closer, when bassist Tony Marino's evocative arco solo leads Liebman to some of his most reflective moments on the record.
Liebman's associates are consistently superb, as drummer Alex Ritz transitions smoothly from the hard swinging "Lazy Bird" to skilled use of the frame drum on the expansively atmospheric "Olé." Pianist/keyboardist Bobby Avey is as effective on the solo rubato piano opening of "My Favorite Things" as he is working the synths on the otherworldly "Compassion." And Matt Vashlishan serves as the perfect second horn for Liebman: he's outstanding on alto sax on "My Favorite Things" but just as compelling in a more meditative vein when playing flute on "Dear Lord" and "Peace on Earth."
Most importantly, Liebman's arrangements manage the trick of capturing Coltrane's spirit while avoiding sounding beholden to the pieces' original formulations. There's a lot to discover here, and Liebman has successfully revealed yet more layers to the vital Coltrane legacy.
Mr. Day; Compassion; My Favorite Things; Olé; Lazy Bird; Peace on Earth; One Up One Down;
Selflessness; Dear Lord.