Frank Tiberi, Joe Lovano and George Garzone: Tiberian Mode

Jim Worsley By

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Frank Tiberi, Joe Lovano and George Garzone: Tiberian Mode
While the three tenor saxophone soloists with piano, bass, and drums was already a proven sextet formula, the Tiberian Mode is one of vast reproportioning and accelerated creativity. Led by big band divinity Frank Tiberi and two of his disciples, George Garzone, and Joe Lovano, the project unleashes power, vigor, and contrasting jazz sensibilities.

Attention is piqued even before listening when you learn that the first song is the first and last section of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" written backward. A brief a cappella by the soloists on "Spets Esrever" (Steps Reverse) quickly gives way to a fierce saxophone barrage. Playing with nuance, yet at breakneck speed, becomes the Tiberian Mode norm. Next, a softer groove is preceded by Andy LaVerne's buoyant piano run opening on the classic "Stella by Starlight." Drummer Adam Nussbaum smoothly builds a bridge between the soloists and the piano trio. Bassist Ray Drummond solos sharply within the trio. Wisely, this sextet ensemble took advantage of also playing in variations of trio, duo, and quartet throughout the record. Further, no matter how wonderfully wicked Tiberi, Garzone, and Lovano get, the sextet can always be heard in equal measures, as it should be. A tip of the cap to sound engineer David Baker.

Three Tiberi originals follow. The tender ballad "I Have Loved" brings to mind imagery of young women swooning aside the bandstand back in the day. The tune is highlighted by a sweet duet by Tiberi with pianist James Williams. The emotion carries over to the fluid introduction of "Retrospect." As Garzone sits one out, Tiberi and Lovano waste no time jumping on board and taking turns swinging with joyously melodic lines. Lovano vividly expresses himself with precise note selection, while Tiberi's breathlessly invigorating gait relentlessly bursts at the seams. The second-to-longest track on the record also had plenty of time for the trio to swing in fine form. Time and time again drummer Nussbaum sets up the soloists in a manner that lets them take flight. "The Garz and I," not surprisingly, sees Tiberi and Garzone, this time sans Lovano, in a noteworthy conversation. They ride a crest intuitively improvising and feeding off of each other with stellar connectivity.

An homage to the great Dizzy Gillespie is up next with a driving take on "The Champ." David Riekenberg sits in on baritone sax, as Tiberi sits one out. A big band backdrop is impressively created by the ensemble early on, that allows broad opportunities to make impressions and improvise freely. Riekenberg brings a welcomed freshness, as Garzone and Lovano step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Nussbaum's precisely tailored fit, alongside Laverne's well-suited stroll, is of significant variance to the sax soloists punching and jabbing at will.

Tiberi returns in stylish form and with "Confusion," another original song, that intersects the contrasting sounds of Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Slowing down the tempo with Laverne's soft touch on the keys and Nussbaum's brushes, Tiberi takes his time and pragmatically, yet openly, touches and caresses each note. Lovano and Garzone share moments of blissful serenity and ride calmly across the gentle flow of the rhythm section. Two voices that could easily collide, instead cooperate under the guidance of Frank Tiberi.

Tiberi's treatment of the legendary "Body and Soul" is extraordinary. At nearly ten minutes, it is the longest offering on the record. It is at times left to desirably linger and flirt with your senses, with progressions that thrust forward, again driven hard by Nussbaum. Garzone delivers sumptuous lines. Lovano brings his warm sensibilities. Tiberi adds his own long rides of magic and brings together a memorable sextet performance.

The record concludes with the fun and cleverly titled "Cherry Key." Tiberi's wink and a nod to Ray Noble's dynamic big band classic "Cherokee," most notably recorded by the Charlie Barnet Big Band in 1939. "Cherry Key" kicks the band into full gear. Tiberi opens the juggernaut on soprano sax. Nussbaum sets his compass and stirs the ensemble, while whipping up some major action on his kit. Arranged with adroit passages, Drummond has his biggest moment to shine with some hot grooves against which Laverne takes a tasteful final run. Of course, it is the three soloists that ultimately take full advantage, adding the picture-perfect pocket to their pallets and powerfully and passionately punctuating their note priorities with a pleasing and pulsating purpose. Phew!!

Track Listing

Spets Esrever; Stella By Starlight; I Have Loved; Retrospect; The Garz And I; The Champ; Confusion; Body And Soul; Cherry Key.


Frank Tiberi: saxophone, tenor; Joe Lovano: saxophone; George Garzone: saxophone, tenor; Andy LaVerne: piano; James Williams: piano; Ray Drummond: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums; David Reikenberg: saxophone, baritone.

Album information

Title: Tiberian Mode | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: NY Jam

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