Jazz CD Reviews

Contact – Five on One – Pirouet

The quintet Contact unites Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, Marc Copland, Drew Gress and Billy Hart on an exploration of focused and flowing post-bop.

Published on June 14, 2010

Contact – Five on One – Pirouet

Contact – Five on One – Pirouet PIT3048, 59:09 ****:

(Dave Liebman – tenor and soprano saxophone; John Abercrombie – guitar; Marc Copland – piano; Drew Gress – bass; Billy Hart – drums)

While Five on One might seem like a professional wrestling pile-up or a hockey power play, it actually refers to five masterful musicians joined together for the first time on one album: saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarist John Abercrombie, pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Billy Hart. Five on One is also a sly nod to John Abercrombie’s piece in this collection, “Four on One.”

This quintet that calls itself Contact has never performed as one unit before but everyone involved has, in one form or another, previously been acquainted. Gress is a member of Copland’s trio; Billy Hart teamed up with Liebman in the group Quest; Abercrombie and Liebman were part of the band Lookout Farm; Liebman and Copland were allies in duo and quartet outings; and Abercrombie and Copland have also shared their talents on other recordings.

It goes without saying these five artists have a dynamic unity, bring a concentrated interaction to the nine tracks and reveal a complete sensitivity to each other over the hour long program. The sense of musical democracy carries over to songwriting as well: Abercrombie penned three tunes, Gress two, and Copland, Liebman and Hart one per man. A single standard rounds out the set list.

The record consists of medium to slow tempo material accentuating nuances, subtlety and restrained delight. However, there is also stylistic diversity, simmering complexity and expressive aesthetics. Take Abercrombie’s opening number “Sendup”: Liebman’s wistful soprano sax drifts above Abercrombie’s absorbing chords and Copland’s always glossy piano. Gress’s resonant bass rides underneath while Hart arrays chipper rhythmic touches.

Gress’s compositional aptitude unfolds during the pensive “Like It Never Was.” Originally from the bassist’s 2005 release 7 Black Butterflies, this version is a disconsolate trudge down a memory of heartbreak. Once the somber theme is introduced and run through, Abercrombie stretches out via some of his renowned sharp potency that recalls his Gateway endeavors. Liebman layers bits of understated sax that gradually kindles into a like-minded ignition.

Copland’s nostalgic ballad “Childmoon Smile” is a typically elegant creation. While Copland explores refined line after line, the keyboardist and Gress also exhibit a sympathetic camaraderie. Liebman’s melodic sax is perceptive as well as a pleasure to hear.

The piece that exemplifies the quintet’s free-ranging perspective is previously issued “Four on One.” In essence a free improvisation with a summarizing preface, this rendition is taken to more liberal dimensions than earlier presentations. The cut is the shortest, most dominant of the nine compositions, and includes Copland’s abundant keyboard expertise and Gress’s constantly prodding rhythmic facility. The Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz standard “You and the Night and the Music” – the final and longest track – is a similarly superb ensemble undertaking. The modernist arrangement offers an extensive sonic palette with prominent soloing from everyone.

Five on One embodies the ideal of quiet intensity. The material has tension, commanding characteristics and brooding strength. This is not music that slaps, nevertheless there is a softened weight that permeates every moment, poised but ready to strike, akin to an Akira Kurasawa samurai.

1. Sendup
2. Like It Never Was
3. Childmoon Smile
4. Four on One
5. Lost Horizon
6. Retractable Cell
7. My Refrain
8. Lullaby for Imke
9. You and the Night and the Music

— Doug Simpson

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