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Jeff Libman, guitar – Strange Beauty – CellarLive

Jeff Libman, guitar – Strange Beauty [TrackList follows] – CellarLive CL040916, 51:01 ***:

A straightforward release with a strong unimpeded style. 

(Jeff Libman – guitar; Michael Kocour – piano; Ben Hedquist – acoustic bass; Dom Moio – drums)

There is a maxim in George Bernard Shaw’s play Man And Superman which goes as follows:” He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches”. Fortunately, this does not apply to Jeff Libman, who is Clinical Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Arizona State University. In this release for the CellarLive label entitled Strange Beauty, Libman shows unequivocally that he can do, and does so with a vision and creativity.

While this session should not be construed as breaking any new ground, it is nevertheless straightforward, and showcases a strong unimpeded style from all the participants. Leading off with John Lennon’s “And I Love Her,” the melody is set out in 3/4 time with Libman running through the theme and not straying far from centre. Pianist Kocour makes the most of his solo time. ”A Portrait Of Jenny” has a samba style that works well, and sets a frame for Libman’s Latin-flavoured guitar runs. Kocour’s piano solo is effervescent and avoids clichés.

Three of the four following tracks are Libman originals and while he states in the liner notes that he hopes that listeners might be humming one of them at some point in time, that is not going to happen.  However the title track, “Strange Beauty,” has a certain expressive quality with Libman’s single note musings rather smart. Throughout the reading, drummer Moio is singularly supportive with textured brush strokes, and Hedquist delivers some solid bass work.    

The three remaining tunes are covers with “Star Eyes” and “Ecaroh” the most interesting. The former was a Charlie Parker favourite and the band does justice to the number without obsequious adherence to the Parker arrangement. Both Libman and pianist Kocour give the number an intense understanding.

“Ecaroh” is a Horace Silver composition that has an interesting back story. Firstly, the name of the tune is a semi-palindrome ( Ecaroh=Horace) much like another jazz standard written by Sonny Rollins Airegin (Nigeria). Secondly, Silver did not record the number with any regularity. In fact, until very recently discographies showed only two recordings. One in 1952 for Blue Note called Horace Silver and in 1956 on a Columbia album called The Jazz Messengers. Now the Naxos label has released a Horace Silver Quintet session recorded in 1959 in Zurich for the Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series on which the number appears. Libman has grasped the complexity of the piece, with all its contours and harmonic nooks and crannies. It is a fitting end to this tidy album.

TrackList: And I Love Her; A Portrait Of Jenny; Strange Beauty; Stop Hitting Yourself; Star Eyes; Force Of Will; A Ship Without A Sail; Ecaroh

—Pierre Giroux

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