Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman and Abel Pabon – The Miami Jazz Project [TrackList follows] – Zoho

Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman and Abel Pabon – The Miami Jazz Project [TrackList follows] – Zoho ZM201409, 56:07 (Distr. by Allegro) [10/14/14] ***:

(Dave Liebman – soprano and tenor saxophone, co-arranger; Arthur Barron – tenor and alto saxophone, flute; Abel Pabon – keyboards, producer, musical director, co-arranger; Josh Allen – acoustic and electric bass; Eric England – electric bass (track 3); Michael Piolet – drums, Alfredo Chacon – vibraphone, percussion)

Although the liner notes for Arthur Barron, Dave Liebman and Abel Pabon’s The Miami Jazz Project purport this is a return to the heyday of jazz fusion akin to 1970s Miles Davis, Weather Report and so on, there’s more going on here than a re-fashioning of fusion history. Fusion is just one facet of a larger jazz window. That’s clear on the opener, a vibrant and relatively straightforward remake of John Coltrane’s slightly-known “Dahomey Dance,” taken from Coltrane’s 1961 LP, Olé Coltrane. This rendition is more restrained than Coltrane’s. It’s half the length, faster paced, dispenses with Coltrane’s modal jazz introduction, or his lightly Latin undercurrent. However, saxophonist Liebman does capture Coltrane’s spirited sax tone (especially during his vivid solo), and keyboardist Pabon, drummer Michael Piolet and Josh Allen (on acoustic bass) echo the interplay of McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Reggie Workman. Pabon’s improvisational sprint about three minutes in is explosive. Barron’s “Mr. Q” also has a determined Coltrane-esque quality, and was composed as a tribute to Coltrane and Jones. The two-tenor sax arrangement features a cutting call-and-response melody line moored by a minor vamp and a chant-like bridge. Barron admits in the CD liner notes this track was worked on over several years and the pieces finally came together for this recording. The result is purely Coltrane in essence and awareness.

The rest of the program includes original material split between the project’s leaders and most of those cuts more closely aim toward the album’s intended theme linked to classic fusion. “Lordy Lourdes” (co-written by Barron and Pabon) has a solid backbeat, an unusual but distinctive Middle Eastern design led by Barron’s escalating flute soloing and an electric violin sound via Pabon’s keyboards, which brings to mind Jean-Luc Ponty. Barron’s lengthy, multi-section “Jinnistan” has a similar Eastern/jazz melodic setting, and the jittery, rhythmic flow simulates the mischievous spirits (or jinns) of Islamic mythology. Open-framed sax solos, a background wash of electric keys and a rock-jazz beat (abetted by Piolet and guest electric bassist Eric England) help summon up the halcyon days of progressive fusion.

Those who have followed Liebman’s career may recognize “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,” since the cut appeared on Liebman’s 1977 record Light’n Up, Please!. Liebman’s initial take was furious but dated funk. Here, he and the band invest his composition with a more varied personality and expand the fresh arrangement. Pabon commences with a one-minute synth solo, “Blessing Eternal,” loosely based on Tibetan chanting, and then the group enters to create a vamping piece with sweeping contributions from the sax players, Pabon and a lively bass/drums backdrop. This track, more than most others, manages to both replicate and extend the fusion concept, although that may be more related to the context of what Liebman did on his prior version and how it compares to this better translation. Other, newer Liebman numbers are also notable. The pleasant ballad, “Scheer Joy” (titled as a pun because it was commissioned by a German musician with that last name) has an expressive electric piano solo while Liebman fosters his emotional aspects on his soprano sax. The conventional sheen may not entice some, but it has a lovely, romantic tinge absent from other material.

The two-sax duet, “Missing Person,” conveys a short dialogue which turns into an improvisatory conversation between Liebman and Barron and alludes to the enduring friendship which has existed between the two horn players. The album closes with the longest work, Barron’s “Tu Amor Neri,” penned for Afro-Cuban dancer/choreographer Neri Torres. The foundation is grounded by a bolero played in 4/4 time, and over the eight-minute course the musicians spend time flitting with the complex melody by means of five discrete segments which denote different feelings and characteristics. Barron again shifts to flute, which presents a dynamic and feathery mannerism, while soprano sax also adds to the brighter tonality. The Miami Jazz Project does not tread unique terrain, but does surround listeners with friendly fusion and contemporary jazz, and Liebman, Pabon and Barron (plus the rest of the backing band) deliver a likeable musical experience.

TrackList: Dahomey Dance; Lordy Lourdes; Jinnistan; Winter Day; Mr. Q; Blessings Eternal (introduction to Slow Dance on the Killing Ground); Slow Dance on the Killing Ground; Scheer Joy; Missing Person; Tu Amor Neri.

—Doug Simpson

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