The David Liebman Group at the Deerhead Inn

Victor L. Schermer By

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Liebman used his consummate harmonic skills to create some of the most beautiful rapid-fire improvisations I
The David Liebman Group
The Deerhead Inn
Delaware Water Gap, PA
October 20, 2006

David Liebman is a preeminent jazz saxophonist who has sustained a top-of-the-line reputation for four decades. He embodies a rare combination of discipline, knowledge, technique, and passion. Simply put, he is a true and dedicated master. Throughout his career, he has kept growing, evolving, listening, playing, composing, teaching, seeking new understanding, and pushing the limits of the instrument and of musical expression. His music compels the listener to think as well as feel. Each phrase and line emerges from his horn as a concept, a question, and answer. Then, kaleidoscopically, he goes on to the next series, so that an integrated composition evolves from the many parts as they emerge. When you attend one of his performances or listen to his rich library of recordings, you never know where the creative impulse is going to take him, so you may sometimes be stunned or even puzzled by the corner of the labyrinth onto which he has turned.
For Liebman, as for other jazz greats, a steady working group is an artistic necessity. To quote from his Arkadia Records biography, he "has spent his whole career playing with some of the best in the business. He spent extensive periods as a member of the Miles Davis and Elvin Jones groups. As a leader, he has been associated since 1970 with a succession of extraordinary groups from Open Sky Trio to Lookout Farm to Quest, each of which has framed a distinct phase of his musical evolution. His present ensemble, The Dave Liebman Group, was formed in 1991. Pursuing a very eclectic contemporary style, the band has toured Europe, Japan and Israel, and recorded seven CDs. Each member brings to the group a wide range of talents, which enables the music to move in many directions. According to his former drummer, Jamey Haddad, who recently left Liebman to tour with Paul Simon, "Dave is the most inspired and hardest working musician I know, comfortable enough in his own skin to tolerate me! Dave not only gives me the space I need, but he digs, mines and helps to refine the musical personalities in all the musicians he comes into contact with. The group's new drummer, Marko Marcinko, would certainly echo these sentiments. A hard-driving percussionist in the Art Blakey tradition, yet with a contemporary flair and mind-boggling technique, Marcinko brings a dynamic energy to the Liebman group and can go in any direction the group and the music take him. With Liebman, guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino, and Marcinko, the David Liebman Group gave a stunning, vibrant, and swinging performance at the Deerhead Inn on a fall evening in late October.
But the event was not without its vicissitudes! Juris was delayed in a traffic jam while driving out to the Water Gap on the infamous Route 80, so the evening had to begin with a trio. Dave handled the circumstance with grace, but later told me somewhat apologetically that "it was the first time in fifteen years that one of our guys came late. Nonetheless, the group minus one took the occasion to do some standards like "You and the Night and the Music and "Milestones. Not that they played them in any "standard way. Liebman seemed to use the situation to flex his chops with various sounds reminiscent of saxophone greats from Coltrane to Sonny Rollins to Stan Getz, switching around his phrasings in ways that seemed to evoke a history of jazz saxophone. Only Liebman could pull this off and make coherent music of it. He went everywhere it was possible to go with both the soprano and tenor sax, and yet there was a wonderful and lyrical continuity to it all. This was helped along by Marino's passionate bass playing and Marcinko's steady and powerful rhythm. It will be interesting to see where this eclectic group will go musically with Marcinko's very distinct hard bop style.

When Juris came on board, the group did a Liebman original called "A Brite Piece, recorded with Elvin Jones in the early '70's. The contrast with the "trio was striking. Juris shifted the whole atmospheric of the group, lending it a funky feeling and utilizing amplification and reverberation to create a panoply of sustained chords mixed with lines reminiscent of Wes Montgomery. Next, the group executed an extraordinary performance of "Stardust, in which Liebman used his consummate harmonic skills to create some of the most beautiful rapid-fire improvisations I've ever heard, including a passage which sounded like several contrapuntal lines combined into one. The energy generated by Liebman led the group into a kind of overdrive such as occurs when you throw a sports car into a lower gear at high speed. Marino's bass solos took on unsparing emotionality, and Marcinko let loose on drums and various hand-held percussion insturuments. With a composition called "Anubis, in which Liebman played an intro on a small bamboo flute, the suggestion of a Middle Eastern belly dancer combined with "all stops out expressions in various jazz idioms created an almost unbearable intensity. Only Liebman's musical discipline brought just the measure of control to bring the two sets to a barely-restrained and utterly magnificent climax. The otherwise sedate "family audience applauded and cheered ecstatically.

Earlier, the evening was given a tender touch when Dave introduced his fourteen-year old daughter Lydia, a vocal student, and brought her on with the group to sing Jobim's "Dindi, made famous of course by Astrud Gilberto. Lydia has a beautiful, sultry voice and a precision she must have learned from her father. She did a wonderful rendition which I'm sure would have pleased Mr. Jobim had he heard it. I was also very touched by the rapport of father and daughter in this situation.

The Deerhead Inn is a jazz venue which is owned by dedicated new management and offers a unique combination of a very hip music joint with family values, a warm, friendly staff, and the bucolic casualness of a country inn. No wonder guys like Liebman, Keith Jarrett, John Coates, Jr., and Phil Woods are more than happy to perform there whenever they can. If you city folks from the New York and Philadelphia areas want a relaxed day or weekend in the country combined with some of the best jazz you'll hear anywhere, the Deerhead is the place to go. And they have overnight accommodations as well.

Personnel: David Liebman, tenor and soprano saxophones; Victor Juris, guitar; Tony Marino, bass; Marko Marcinko, drums.


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