Dave Liebman, Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake – CHI – [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR102, 55:43 [2/22/19] ****:
Not many saxophonists would put together a sax and percussion trio album. Dave Liebman is not a typical saxophonist, though, which helps explain why he created the 56-minute, six-track CHI, where Liebman (on soprano and tenor saxes, piano and wood recorder) is joined by Adam Rudolph (hand drum set, kongos, djembe, tarija, piano, sintir, multi-phonic vocal, percussion and electronic processing) and Hamid Drake (drum set, vocal, frame drum and percussion). There are a lot of percussive elements on CHI but there’s a lot more going on than just percussion and sax. This is multi-tiered material despite seemingly limited instrumentation. CHI is available as a CD, as a gatefold 180-gm vinyl LP, and as multiple digital formats. This review refers to the CD.
The completely unrehearsed music was recorded live in May 2018 at New York City venue The Stone and focuses on modern improvisation where digital effects (synth-like sounds, echo, reverb and others) blend with multifaceted percussion and Liebman’s various wind instruments. Although this was the first trio engagement for Liebman, Rudolph and Drake, the three artists share history. Rudolph and Drake met as teenagers in Chicago and over the decades have been in bands led by trumpeter Don Cherry as well as saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and played in each other’s ensembles. Liebman and Rudolph have performed together over the last several years. This is the initial meeting of Drake and Liebman on the same stage.
The album’s title was specifically chosen to convey the threesome’s liberating inventiveness. “Taoism is all about being in tune with our true nature,” Rudolph reveals. “Chi is all about the yin and yang of receptivity and action. The music on CHI was so successful because everyone was listening and letting the music happen in a very natural, organic, spontaneous way.” The vivid and imaginative material has total freedom but never strays into dissonant free jazz territory, although anyone who isn’t a fan of modernist jazz music may not appreciate the material. CHI is not the first time Liebman has been inspired by drums and percussion. Liebman’s 1975 LP, Drum Ode, was a full ensemble project which comprised five percussionists alongside sax, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals. Obviously, though, on CHI Liebman concentrates more exclusively on his interaction with drums and percussion.
On some cuts on CHI, sax and percussion mingle with other instruments. The relatively short opener, the somber three-minute “Becoming,” features processed bamboo flute, Rudolph’s minimalist piano notes, Drake’s sublime cymbals and eventually Liebman’s tenor sax strides in. The nine-minute “Formless Form” has a similar stance which begins with a parallel dark tinge highlighted by Liebman’s subdued piano and is accentuated by subtle percussion and precise drum notes. The trio evolves “Formless Form” from a slow, cinematic structure where the use of space is paramount, to something less spread out which includes eruptions of sound, tension, vocalized noises and discord.
There are two notable, lengthy pieces. The 13-minute “Flux” is well named as it traverses several musical aspects. It commences with Drake and Rudolph’s intertwined rhythms, and then Liebman soars in with rapidly-moving tenor sax lines and chords. The energy during “Flux” rises quickly and stays forceful until a sudden deceleration occurs where Rudolph switches to a wispy soprano sax, his notes floating nearly weightlessly while he adds delicate slices of melody amid spirals of digital looping. The hovering respite gradually tapers away, and “Flux” shifts back to a thrusting, driving impetus. The other long-form tune is the 15-minute “Emergence.” During the introduction drums and percussion hold a duo dialogue, and then Liebman enters with fast-fingered soprano sax which is heightened by Rudolph’s otherworldly vocalizations. “Emergence” has the album’s most sustained and heady groove, an exhilarating combination of frame drum, drum kit, hand percussion and more. “Emergence” is a great example of how Liebman showcases his ability to compliment and interweave sax with multilayered percussion, a feat few saxophonists can accomplish. The concert CD closes with the fluidly flowing, nearly ten-minute “Whirl,” wherein Rudolph’s sintir (a three-stringed, skin-covered lute which has a percussive sound like a pizzicato cello or double bass) provides a rhythmic base for Drake’s various percussive sounds, as well as some ethereal vocal interjections, while Liebman offers higher-register soprano sax lines. CHI is a well-honed demonstration of how perceptive and excellent in-the-moment music can be when crafted by three masterful musicians who are receptive to each other and to extemporaneous music-making.
Dave Liebman – co-producer, soprano and tenor saxophone, piano (track 4), wood recorder; Adam Rudolph – co-producer, hand drum set, kongos, djembe, tarija, piano (track 1), sintir, multi-phonic vocal, percussion, electronic processing; Hamid Drake – drum set, vocal, frame drum, percussion
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