Dave Liebman / David Binney / Donny McCaslin / Samuel Blais - Four Visions Saxophone Quartet

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019

Personnel - Samuel Blais: baritone sax; Dave Liebman: soprano sax, flute; Donny McCaslin: tenor sax; David Binney: alto sax.

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The music hailed from classic saxophone quartets (typically comprising soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone) can be very exciting when in the hands of wise, influential musicians. Good examples are World Saxophone Quartet and Rova Saxophone Quartet, both founded in 1977 and with the latter still active. Now, a new ensemble of the same kind arrives, with its top-notch members showing off their multifaceted genius while fully enjoying a bracing musical camaraderie.

The Four Visions Saxophone Quartet was born from an idea of baritonist Samuel Blais, who first invited his former teacher, master soprano saxist Dave Liebman, to join him. The remaining two positions available couldn’t be better filled, with Donny McCaslin and David Binney bringing their tone quality and persuasive language on tenor and alto, respectively. The quartet’s debut album features ten compositions specifically written for the occasion. Blais and Binney contributed three compositions each, while McCaslin and Liebman penned two.

Blaizza” inaugurates the session with flowing melodies in strong counterpoint and shifting tempos, combining four distinct timbres for a stunning effect. For this two-part tune straddling between modern classical and contemporary jazz, Blais sought inspiration on “Andante and Scherzo” by French composer Eugène Bozza. Conversely, his “Et Vois Et Jours” was originally written for a jazz quartet and readapted to fit the context of this disc. Manifestly, there’s absolutely no need for chordal support here since the combinations of notes clearly imply harmonic movement.

Relying on unisons, polyphonies, and question-and-answer mechanics, the passages in Binney’s “Dunes” are accessible to the ear but relatively complex in the execution. Whether intoned with stately grace or rhythmic impact, the piece is highly enjoyable, reaching a climax with the altoist’s impromptu projections on top of a groove formed by a sturdy baritone pedal and tenor-soprano ostinatos in seven. Also penned by Binney, the staccato-infused “Empty Sunbeans” could be turned into a great pop/rock song, while “Technicolor Penguins” vouches a head sequenced by off-centered melodic ideas and rhythmically accurate unisons. You’ll find poignant, tone-bent cries by McCaslin and Binney evolving into long runs toward a crescendo that culminates in piercing notes.

So luxuriant and precise in its conception, “Legions” was envisioned by McCaslin with a new found determination, and it’s all about superior interplay. It features the composer and Liebman in crisp and exuberant exchanges and Binney in a high flight. The former two deliver again on “Buy a Mountain”, another McCaslin-penned stunner.

Liebman brought the longest piece into the collection, with the cogitative “In Bach’s Studio” clocking in at nearly 16 minutes. However, it’s with “A Moody Time” that he enchants the most. Besides inside/outside offerings, he delineates epic unisons, combines a mix of thematic Eastern and Western flavors, and devises a bouncing 15/8 groove that gains emphasis with the potency of the baritone.

Promoting textural variety in their advanced writings, these accomplished saxophonists, more than fulfilling their improvisational duties, dabble in the tonal qualities of their reed instruments with an extensive range of approaches. The result is a wonderful album.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
03 - Legions ► 06 - A Moody Day ► 07 - Technicolor Penguins


Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake - Chi

Label: RareNoise, 2019

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, piano, wooden recorder; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, piano, sinter, percussion, electronics; Hamid Drake: drumset, vocals, frame drum, percussion.

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Combining the mysticism of ancient traditions and the sonic aesthetics of today’s music, Chi is an album of spontaneous music, matching saxophonist Dave Liebman with two top-class percussionists and kindred spirits, Adam Rudolph and Hamid Drake. The latter collaborates with the saxophonist for the very first time, giving precious help in the rhythmic layout of a record that shares the same conception as The Unknowable, another RareNoise release that featured Liebman, Rudolph and Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani.

The short-lived opener, “Becoming”, shapes slowly, creating a whispery electronic settlement that gains further mystery with the addition of Rudolph’s jolting intervals on the piano. Liebman infuses some spirituality at the last minute, making us wanting more.

The simpatico rhythmic tide of “Flux” upholds the alacritous, coiled phrases from tenor saxophone. This turbo-charged firepower settles down into a calm passage that, nonetheless, comes loaded with Liebman’s virtuosic language, which echoes on soprano sax with delay effect. Behind the drum kit, Drake responds accordingly, while Rudolph creates a densely propulsive flux through expeditious hand-drum bombardments.

If “Continuum” generates tension by departing from long howling cries and landing into pungently accented phrases, “Formless Form” mixes sweet piano delineations with chirping sounds, attaining a delicate equilibrium between nature and spirit. Liebman plays the piano with dexterity and unchained abandon, and, for an instant, Drake uses his voice, before diffusing an exhilarating percussion tapestry alongside Rudolph.

After the shifting, energetic, and expertly rendered “Emergence”, the longest piece on the record, “Whirl” brings the recording to a conclusion, proliferating a sort of groovy mantra implanted by Rudolph’s sintir and featuring Drake’s frame drum and vocals, as well as Liebman’s penetrating soprano exclamations.

The trio immerses us into their creative sonic bubble where fearless sounds may whether anchor you to Earth’s foundations or make you travel well above the clouds.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Flux ► 04 - Formless Form ► 06 - Whirl


Dave Liebman / Tatsuya Nakatani / Adam Rudolph - The Unknowable

Label: RareNoise Records, 2018

Personnel - Dave Liebman: tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, piri, Fender Rhodes; Tatsuya Nakatani: drum kit, gongs, percussion; Adam Rudolph: handrumset, percussion, sintir, mbuti harp, overtone flutes, Fender Rhodes, electronics.

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Prolific saxophonist/bandleader Dave Liebman, a living jazz legend and one of the most influential musicians and educators of our times, joins an imaginative duo of percussionists, Tatsuya Nakatani and Adam Rudolph. Together, they create a variety of spontaneous conversations where the reaction to stimulus is a must. Hence, communication plays an essential role throughout The Unknowable, the result of their experimental meeting.

The first and last tracks on the album are static and share the same title, “Benediction”. Both versions comprise uncanny electronics and a saxophone story recited over drones and additional atmospheric noises, yet, the opening variant adds far more percussive elements to the intriguing scenario. By the way, it was Rudolph who came up with the track titles in a post-recording phase.

The Simple Truth” thrives with hand drumming forays, diverse metal collisions, and Liebman’s cartoonish sketches formed with brief stabs of notes on soprano. He often centers his playing in the rhythmic axis, but some melodic incursions are also discernible.

Echoing brisk phrases through a delay effect and resorting to heavy electronic manipulation, the title track is filled with tremors and high-pitched clamors let loose by Liebman’s spiraling soprano. While the posture is active here, it changes to passive on the following piece, “Skyway Dream”, where the rhythm is thoroughly marked and the flute notes hang in the air.
 
Hand drums and metal percussion become the dominant elements on “Transmutations”, which includes a panoply of grating sounds, clashes, and creaks. It ends up in a sort of African exultation that also can be felt on “Present Time”, although the pulse here almost touches the Brazilian samba. Commanding the tenor with an impressive sense of liberty, Liebman embarks on a more familiar language, inclining his sayings toward bebop zones. Yet, the crashingly noisy assaults in the background remain active until the end.

The saxophonist’s disposition shifts again on “Premonition”, which serves as a vehicle for his timbral explorations and extended techniques. This urgency of speech combined with fragmented rhythms takes us to free jazz territory.

Flirtations with non-Western music translate into a pair of nomadic pieces, “The Turning” and “Distant Twilight”. With self-restraint, the trio resorts to meditative phrases taken from exotic scales as well as simple yet catchy grooves meticulously designed by sintir or thumb piano.

Both Liebman and Rudolph play the Fender Rhodes in one tune each, searching for the enigmatic and the atmospheric. “Cosmogram”, unpleasantly piercing at first, is a good example of how a musical piece can sound simultaneously acrid and dulcet.

The record sounds quite distinctive from what Liebman has done before and defies any categorization beyond the experimental. Abstraction they fear not, and you’ll find the adventurous threesome attempting to squeeze their individual sounds into a compact, organic whole. In some ways, they succeed.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks: 
07 - The Turning ► 08 - Present Time ► 12 – Premonition


Dave Liebman / Joe Lovano - Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane

Label/Year: Resonance Records, 2017

Lineup - Dave Liebman: saxophone, flute; Joe Lovano: saxophone; Phil Markowitz: piano; Ron McLure: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

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We couldn’t have asked for better! Two veterans and top-notch horn masters like Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano playing together the bright music of John Coltrane in the commemoration of his 50th anniversary on Resonance Records.

Regardless their different styles, approaches, and timbres, the co-leaders seamlessly adjust their eloquent phrasing and give a new life to these iconic pieces.
Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane features the striking duo accompanied by the also experienced Phil Markowitz on piano, Ron McLure on bass, and the great Billy Hart on drums. 

Locomotion”, an electrifying hard-bop tune first recorded in 1957 as part of the acclaimed album Blue Trane (Blue Note), immediately gets the band together for a ‘crazy motion’ as the title suggests. The vivacity that arises from the rhythm section’s coalition instigates Liebman and Lovano to draw vigorous and articulated melodic sequences full of oblique angles and action-reaction momentum.

The effervescence winds down for “Central Park West/Dear Lord”, a smooth medley where Lovano controls the first part with soulful enthusiasm while Liebman is in charge of finding benevolent melodies and take them to the second, as an ode to the Creator.
 
The mood changes once more on “Olé”, a lavish modal piece that takes us to Spanish traditions, in the present case, more exciting and less harmful than their bullfighting. Sweet flute intonations set the right tone and are quickly joined by the percussive scratches drawn by the piano strings. Moments later, McLure and Hart underpin a Latin-tinged groove that invites the horns for an urgent, magical feast à-la Coltrane. The tune ends with McLure’s bass ruminations.

Both “Reverend King” and “Equinox” bring hope into the world as true conveyers of a beneficial spiritual aura. The former, a push-pull rubato, is built with bowed bass, flute, and cymbal’s splashes; the latter, flowing at a slightly faster pace than the original, is a minor blues coated with Liebman’s rapturous soprano flights, Markowitz’s poised linkage of chords and melodies, and Lovano’s heartwarming tenor strains. 

The rhythmic sophistication of Billy Hart stands out on “Compassion”, an almost 18-minute devotion that also expands with the saxophonists’ igneous phrases, which converge into unisons and then scatter up to uproars that go in and out of focus.

Liebman/Lovano quintet strikes with ravishment and gusto, showing their reverence for Coltrane’s legacy while exhibiting their own special gifts. 
In addition to knowing inside out the territory they’re stepping into, refinement and dynamism became keys in the process. 

         Grade  A-

         Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Locomotion ► 03 – Ole ► 06 – Compassion