Liebman is in imperious form alongside several New York jazz A-listers.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010
Undoubtedly deserving of the title of modern day tenor titan, Dave Liebman has also made an important a contribution to the vocabulary of the soprano saxophone, the ‘straight horn’, whose popularity and more widespread adoption was furthered by John Coltrane in the 60s.
Generally speaking, it is a difficult instrument to master, apparently because the tuning and intonation present challenges for even the most skilled of practitioners. Despite having a smaller sound than a tenor or baritone, the soprano is capable of tremendous power as well as serenity – think of Coltrane’s turbulent whirlpools on the improvised sections and tranquil streams on the melody of My Favourite Things – and this finely crafted big band set by Liebman reinforces that point.
Backed by six reeds, eight brass and a four-piece rhythm section, many of whom are A-list New Yorkers, Liebman is in imperious form, and the way he moves right through a wide tonal and stylistic spectrum, taking the instrument from muted, almost flute-like delicacy to boiling, vocalised aggression lends substantial character to the whole performance. In fact, the soprano really comes into its own during drama-fuelled passages in which it sends wincing high notes against the ominous descending chords of the horn section, piercing the other reeds like a sharp ray of sunlight through a thick band of cloud.
Arrangements wise, the finely moulded harmonic architecture extends the evolutionary lineage of Ellington, Evans et al, but the original composing from Liebman, under the direction of Gunnar Mossblad, has a personal cut and thrust, particularly in interludes which are daring without being overly histrionic – a temptation to which some writers succumb when they have such a rich palette of sounds to play with. Furthermore, Liebman’s embrace of non-western music, his deployment of Asian modes as well as a gorgeous wood flute, harks back to his classic 1974 album Lookout Farm.
Jazz composers are sometimes overlooked because of their ability as improvisers, and maybe that holds true for a musician like Liebman. This record should ensure such myopia is henceforth avoided.