Saxist Dave Liebman has been pursuing the duo format for decades. We reviewed his sax and piano effort on Zoho with Phil Markowitz not long ago. This time he not only eliminates the bass and drums but also the usual jazz improvisation base of tunes from the Great American Songbook. The source this time is classical lieder and a few strictly instrumental works by classical composers for duos such as oboe and harpsichord.
Liebman’s impetus for the project was being invited to perform a new work in Vienna by an Austrian composer which used the same lyrics as Schubert’s famous Winterreise song cycle. He found that interpreting the lyrical, tonal melodies with little improvisation was a musical high moment for him. It motivated him to pursue lieder from the Romantic and Classical periods. He hooked up with a young pianist in his area – northeastern Pennsylvania. They chose the songs and instrumental selections together and Bobby Avey did most of the arrangements. Liebman reports that his challenge was to convey an emotional attitude culled from the written music while infusing it with his own personal set of inflections.
Lieder of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Debussy are among the eight selections. The closing one is by far the most extensive in scope and length: it is one of the songs from Mahler’s Song of the Earth, running over 12 minutes. The ones originating from piano music and other instrumental selections include a Chopin Etude, a Mendelssohn Song Without Words, and a movement from a Handel sonata. Don’t expect the sort of jazzing-up you hear in, say, a Jacques Loussier Play Bach CD, but the less improvised approach doesn’t sound overly worshipful of the great European classical masters, and Liebman’s tone is gorgeous.
TrackList: Romance (Robert Schumann), Etude in E Flat Minor (Chopin), May Breezes from “Songs Without Words” (Mendelssohn), Immer Leiser Wird Mein Schlummer (Brahms), Sonata No. 6 excerpt (Handel), Tranenregen/Warrerflut (Schubert), Fleur des isles (Debussy), Der Einsame im Herbst from “Song of the Earth” (Mahler)
– John Sunier