Soprano sax icon and modern jazz pioneer Dave Liebman teams up with the equally talented and famous jazz guitarist Pat Metheny for their first ever recording. Liebman’s “”The Elements: Water” represents the first in a projected series of recordings dedicated to the elements. Liebman states in the liners: ...The music “all derives from the opening solo guitar theme” and continues with: “Every composition is based on a different harmonic aspect of this melody”. The first piece “Water: Giver Of Life” is where Pat Metheny subtly imposes the melody through pensive acoustic guitar passages which is a precursor for this albums recurring thematic statements. Throughout the entire project, the themes become reworked or harmonically restructured.
On “White Caps”, Liebman picks up the tenor sax as his phrasing is furious and stinging while displaying a richly textured luminous sound atop a somewhat laid back funk beat. Liebman and Metheny trade a few choruses that suggest turbulence or rapid movement. “Heaven’s Gift” is a straight four swing as Liebman, on soprano spars with Metheny while the class rhythm section of Cecil McBee (b) and Billy Hart (d) provide a rock-bottom foundation yet remain loose and flexible when called upon. “Reflecting Pool” is one of the best tracks on the album. Here, Liebman’s utilization of the wood flute projects ambiance that seems solemn or spiritual. Pat Metheny’s use of the 48 string Pikasso-Guitar enhances the already vivid imagery, which at times becomes lifelike. The stillness of a reflecting pool is captured in artistic fashion.
The albums recurring theme is generally linear, brief and simple in scope which affords Liebman and Metheny some breathing room or some extra space to implement harmonic and thematic reconstruction. Perhaps Liebman’s personalized approach was to convey “water” as an element, which represents the core substance or element of all living creatures and the earth we inhabit. This notion may correspond to the intentional similarities given to these compositions although; no two tracks sound identical yet the common bond or denominator adheres to the one theme concept.
“Storm Surge” is a fast paced burner while “Baptismal” features Liebman on Tenor Sax as his lush sound is optimized by a dash of reverb on top of Metheny’s endearing steel string acoustic guitar work. Everyone let’s loose on the free jazz romp “Ebb & Flow”. Here, Cecil McBee stirs the pot with super quick walking bass lines, which catapults this piece into forward motion. One minor gripe lies with Pat Metheny’s “Synclavier” or Synth-Guitar. This reviewer feels that Metheny needs to find a new toy or digital guitar. Metheny has worn out his welcome with this contraption that sounds jaded and predictable. On the other hand Metheny’s acoustic and straight-ahead electric guitar work is fabulous throughout this recording.
The last track is an interview with Liebman conducted by Bob Karcy of Arkadia Records. Here, Liebman provides insight about the mindset, music and musicians regarding this particular project as “The Elements: Water” is all about lucid imagery rendered through composition and fine ensemble work. *** 1/2
Track Listing: Water: Giver of Life; White Caps; Heaven’s Gift; Bass Interlude; Reflecting Pool; Storm Surge; Guitar Interlude; Baptismal Font; Ebb and Flow; Water Theme (reprise); Dave Liebman’s reflections on “Water”.
Personnel: Dave Liebman, soprano, tenor saxophones, wood flute; Cecil McBee, bass; Billy Hart, drums; Pat Metheny, guitars.