Dave Liebman, Tatsuya Nakatani, Adam Rudolph – The Unknowable – RareNoise 

by | May 9, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

Consistently excellent ‘spontaneous composition’.

Dave Liebman, Tatsuya Nakatani, Adam Rudolph – The Unknowable [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR089, 48:50 [2/23/18] ****:

(Adam Rudolph – kongos, djembe, tarija, zabumba, thumb piano, sintir, mbuti harp, slit drum, percussion, overtone flutes, Fender Rhodes (track 11), live electronic processing, co-producer; Dave Liebman – tenor and soprano saxophones, c flute, native American flute, recorder, piri, Fender Rhodes (track 10); Tatsuya Nakastani – drum kit, gongs, metal percussion, percussion)

Fully improvised music can be difficult for some to embrace. Some may think there would not be any melody; or the harmonies would suffer; or the freedom of being musically in the moment might lead to chaos and noisy commotion. One listen to the 48-minute album The Unknowable by saxophonist Dave Liebman; drummer and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani; and percussionist Adam Rudolph should dispel any quibbles about the benefits of a totally improvising trio. This is the first time Liebman, Nakatani and Rudolph have worked as a threesome. However, the three artists have interacted in other ways. Rudolph (whose résumé includes Don Cherry, Jon Hassell, Sam Rivers and Pharaoh Sanders) performed with Liebman during a 2016 club residency. Nakatani (who has released over 80 recordings) and Rudolph played several trio dates with composer/percussionist Kaoru Watanabe. Liebman (his wide-ranging background includes Miles Davis, rock band Ten Wheel Drive, and Chick Corea) and Nakatani got together in summer, 2016. When Rudolph and Liebman discussed recording, Liebman had the idea to include Nakatani. The result is The Unknowable, which was issued as a compact disc; gatefold 180gms double-LP vinyl; and as a digital download. This review refers to the CD.

Even with only three musicians, the 13-track program has a multitiered instrumental range. That’s because there are approximately 20 instruments spread across various pieces. Rudolph employs a plethora of percussion instruments including kongos, djembe, tarija, zabumba, thumb piano, sintir, mbuti harp, slit drum, Fender Rhodes electric piano and live electronic processing. Liebman uses tenor and soprano saxophones, c flute, native American flute, recorder, piri and switches to Fender Rhodes for one cut. Nakastani’s setup comprises drum kit, gongs, metal percussion and other assorted percussion items.

Although the material is spontaneous and different from tune to tune, there are some qualities which are persistent. For example, the album begins and ends with two numbers called “Benediction.” The first, titled “Benediction (Opening)” is a meditative affair with beautiful, liquid percussion and Liebman’s stirring sax. The electronic processing and otherworldly percussion provides an undercurrent with a trace of tension. The concluding “Benediction (Closing)” has a similar approach, with dark-hued tones. The nocturnal “Late Moon” has a comparable mood accentuated by Liebman’s wood flute and Rudolph and Nakastani’s unwinding percussive layers. There’s no direct pulse but despite the unrestricted percussive components, there’s a sense of ease and looseness which is inviting. Liebman is also on flute on “Skyway Dream,” which has a distinct groove that has a unifying effect. “Skyway Dream” has a restless ambiance as if the three are enjoying their musical journey but are not in any hurry to terminate the path they are traversing.

Some material gets jittery and edgy. The all-percussion foray “Transmutation” is domineering, with sawing noises, harsh sounds, crashes and clangs, and other unsettling percussive scraping, rasping and hand-created turmoil. The jarring percussive elements also distend through “Present Time,” although an African rhythmic foundation helps establish a semblance of a beat. Liebman’s tenor sax also supplies a conventional bop inclination when he solos. Two cuts have a soulful timbre thanks to the Fender Rhodes. Liebman is heard on the Fender on the brief, two-minute “Iconographic.” Liebman contributes a wonderful, fusion-esque stance while the two percussionists generate a warm percussive characteristic. The nearly five-minute “Cosmogram” features Rudolph on Rhodes, Liebman on soprano sax and Nakastani handles the percussive footprint. “Cosmogram” moves from dissonance to lyrical, seamlessly balancing prickly moments against softer instances.

There are some free jazz-like tunes, such as the swiftly shifting “Premonition,” where Liebman showcases his explorative aspects and applies echo to extend his experimental ascent. Rudolph adds to the free-form format by manipulating live electronic processing, and Rudolph and Nakatani supplement the agitated urgency with disjointed rhythms and extemporaneously unpredictable percussion. The Unknowable has a unique personality which owes no adherence to any preconceived notions. You can call it jazz; you can term it spontaneous composition; you can designate this as non-genre instrumentalism. Whatever you choose, this is music which has a collaborate heart. This is three-dimensional music. Big kudos to James Dellatacoma’s lucid and glassy engineering, mixing and mastering. He gives this an album detailed audio physiognomy and the kind of production which has a meticulous acoustic excellence.

Benediction (Opening)
The Simple Truth
Late Moon
The Unknowable
Skyway Dream
The Turning
Present Time
Distant Twilight
Benediction (Closing)

—Doug Simpson

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