After more than three decades, saxophonist Dave Liebman is the epitome of the modern improviser whose recorded work is constantly first-class, but rarely as challenging as his live performances. Two new CDs alter those expectations, showing that his style can be extended. Take Turnaround
, where Liebman and guitarist Vic Juris
, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko romp through a collection of rearranged Ornette Coleman tunes. More spectacular is Relevance
, a two-sax face-off between Liebman and Britain's Evan Parker
, his equivalent in the free music field, backed by drummer Tony Bianco
. As good as it is, Lieb Plays Weill
only finds Liebman adding another to his collection of stellar interpretive performances. Relevance
offers one of the most spectacular examples of unrestrained tenorand sopranomadness since John Coltrane recorded with Pharoah Sanders. Instructively it's difficult to tell one reedist from the other, a fact that is unsurprising since both men's styles initially derive from Trane. While the duets are linear, any fireworks expressed are kept within the creative framework by the solid rolls, pops and jagged rebounds of Bianco. From the beginning it's likely Liebman on tenor who latches onto hocketing squeaks and extended vibrato runs while Parker's tenor playing evolves from irregular diaphragm-forced runs to reed biting. More moderato on sopranos, the two create in double counterpoint. Only in the second set does Parker use circular breathing; in response Liebman unrolls throat-tightening dissonance and triple-tonguing. Before switching back to tenors for an additional layer of contrapuntal contours, one saxophonist sounds an adagio tone that could come from a country blues fiddle.
Ornette Coleman is the modern jazzman closest to country blues. Yet Liebman, who specializes in harmonic development, chooses to emphasize Coleman's melodies on Turnaround
. The reading evolves in blocks as opposed to treating Coleman's compositions as organic wholes; Juris' strategies add to this concept. The treatment of "Kathelin Gray," for instance, is gentle and straightforward, close to a Broadway ballad, with Liebman contributing a ravishing obbligato. "Una Muy Bonita" is given a Latin tinge with slick, resonating licks and wide strums from Juris, clavé pops and rolls from Marcinko and a double-time saxophone solo. Although Liebman produces multiphonics from his wooden flute on "Lonely Woman," the tune's romanticism is emphasized, especially when reflective slurred fingering and reverb from the guitarist parallels Liebman's narrative. "Face of the Bass/Beauty is a Rare Thing" manages to advance the first themeinitially triple-stopped by Marinowith bell-shaking and snare pops plus harsh strumming. The second tune is notable for Liebman's flutter-tonguing and trilling lows plus near baroque-licks from Juris, with cymbal sizzles marking the finale.
Although the instrumentation is the same on the salute to German composer Kurt Weill, the conception is anything but radical. Guitarist Jesse van Ruller's playing, for instance, is so mainstream that Juris' individuality becomes more obvious. Van Ruller sprinkles licks intelligently and studs his comping with string snaps, but mostly he and the othersbassist Marius Betts and drummer Eric Inekeare pretty unobtrusive. More ideas come from Liebman, but they rarely ruffle the song-like surfaces. A tune such as "You're Far Too Near Me" floats on reed obbligatos that are practically Getz-ian while "This Time Next Year," with Liebman's chirping soprano, becomes a mellow bossa nova. Even his flute peeps on "Applejack" are more frilly than funky. About the only time lyricism is tested is on "Speak Low," magisterial tenor lines meeting intricate staccato guitar plinks. Rejuvenated, the tune pops with finger-vibrated reed smears, expressive string strums and cymbal slaps. Liebman merely confirms his interpretive skills here, but should be applauded for challenging himself elsewhere. As these CDs attest, the further he gets from his comfort zone the better he sounds.
Tracks and Personnel Relevance
Tracks: Relevance (1st Set) Part 1; Relevance (1st Set) Part 2; Relevance (2nd Set) Part 1; Relevance (2nd Set) Part 2.
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones and Indian bamboo flute; Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxophones; Tony Bianco: drums. Turnaround
Tracks: Enfant; Turnaround; Kathelin Gray; Bird Food; Lonely Woman; Cross Breeding; Face of the Bass/Beauty is a Rare Thing; Una Muy Bonita; The Blessing; The Sky.
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones and wooden flute; Vic Juris: electric and acoustic guitars; Tony Marino: bass; Marko Marcinko: drums. Lieb Plays Weill
Tracks: Mack The Knife (Mackie Messer); This Time Next Year; Speak Low; What Good Would the Moon Be; Here I'll Stay; Liebslied; Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter; You're Far Too Near Me; Apple Jack; My Ship; This is New; September Song.
Personnel: Dave Liebman: soprano and tenor saxophones, wooden flute and piano; Jesse van Ruller: guitar; Marius Betts: bass; Eric Ineke: drums.