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We Three: Three For All

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This is maybe my favourite Dave Liebman recording, in part because of the other two players on it. Drummer Adam Nussbaum composed the title track, and by alternating between the bass and guitar capacities of his instrument, Steve Swallow makes a little masterpiece of Liebman's creative improvisation. There's much more to it than pretty phrasing—nothing loose, perfect tension, no longueurs.

When Swallow goes all bass on his own "Up and Adam," Liebman's tenor skips, displaying virtues associated variously with Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins; and on another Swallow number, the lyrical, mid-tempo "Whistling Past the Graveyard," the tenor echoes are nearer to Ben Webster. Liebman's no chameleon; these varying resemblances just help map his exceptional personal tonal variety. He uses space, and the spaces he leaves on this number fill amazingly, with Nussbaum's alterations of dynamics and accent. Notice Swallow's walking bass on his electric instrument.

"The Jewish Warrior" starts out almost Celtic, Liebman's soprano sounding flute-toned, Swallow sounding almost Indian. "I Only Have Eyes for You," which starts with the bassist playing his instrument like a guitar, later finds him and Nussbaum keeping things going through a virtuoso multi-note ballad performance in the line of Benny Golson, Don Byas, and Lucky Thompson. Attention to detail liberates this set from looseness, and when Liebman repeats a riff or motif, he does so with new phrasing each time.

Swallow calls upon a whole range of voices on the bass guitar. Its middle voice gets great play on Nussbaum's "Cycling." Yet another of Swallow's compositions here, "The Start of Something Small," could pass for an unknown Ellington ballad for Johnny Hodges. There are three terrific ballad performances here, as well as Nussbaum's riff-theme "BTU," a fast-medium performance surging to such a temperature that the studio fade of the last bars might have been a safety measure.

The rhythm titans provide a very full dynamic background for Liebman on Miles Davis's "All Blues," with a very notable train rhythm passage toward the conclusion. The duo passage on Thelonious Monk's "Played Twice," bridging between a theme statement on soprano (something like the recently deceased Steve Lacy's classic performance on The Straight Horn) and Liebman's own very individual solo.

The last time I saw Lacy, I came away from the performance with a friend asking me, "why is jazz so satisfying?"

I'll refer him to this set.


Track Listing: What Time Is It; Played Twice; We 3; Up and Adam; The Jewish Warrior; Whistling Past the Graveyard; I Only Have Eyes for You; Cycling; All Blues; The Start of Something Small; BTU.

Personnel: Dave Liebman: saxophones, flutes; Steve Swallow: electric bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Title: Three for All | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Challenge Records


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