The Dave Liebman Group – Expansions Live – Whaling City Sound

by | Feb 13, 2017 | Jazz CD Reviews

A double dose of Dave.

The Dave Liebman Group – Expansions Live [TrackList follows] – Whaling City Sound WCS 088 (2-CDs), 62:36, 60:22 [Distr. by Naxos] [10/14/16] ****:

(Dave Liebman – soprano sax, C flute, co-producer; Matt Vashlishan – alto sax, clarinet, C flute, straw, co-producer, mixer; Bobby Avey – piano, keyboard; Tony Marino – acoustic and electric bass; Alex Ritz – drums, frame drum)

Saxophonist Dave Liebman and his quintet bring out the dynamism on the double album, Expansions Live, which has over two hours of music, split between an acoustic side and an electric side, taped at three venues from 2014 through 2016. The personnel on these concert pieces comprises Liebman on soprano sax and flute; longtime collaborator Tony Marino on acoustic and electric bass; Matt Vashlishan on alto saxophone, clarinet and flute; Bobby Avey on piano and electric keyboards; and drummer Alex Ritz. Liebman fans will appreciate the opportunity to contrast and compare the live renditions of tunes from prior Liebman studio releases, plus a few new compositions, as well as the chance to hear the group run through jazz standards by Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron and others.

CD 1 has 62 minutes of material with plenty of solo and improvisational space. The band kicks off with the spirited “JJ,” which Liebman penned for fellow soprano saxophonist Jean-Jacques Quesada. “JJ” has some intriguing variations, since “JJ” plays around with time signatures and a ‘no changes’ approach. The ensemble introduces two original pieces previously recorded on the Dave Liebman Group’s 2015 CD, The Puzzle. Avey’s “Continues to Ignore” is expressive and moodier than “JJ,” and is a somewhat atmospheric tune which focuses on Haiti’s tragic history (including the 2010 earthquake which destroyed parts of the island) and the nation’s current condition. “JJ”’s complex rhythmic elements and other musical concepts borrow from Haitian percussionists. Another number from The Puzzle is Leibman’s somber ode, “Vendetta,” which has challenging chord progressions and a solo piano introduction which sets in motion this slowly-moving and stately work.

The remainder of CD 1 showcases the quintet’s interpretive inclinations. There is an extended and explorative reading of Davis’ “All Blues,” where the melodic line and harmonic components are stretched into novel and innovative touchstones. More music associated with Davis comes during “Selim,” composed by noted Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal for Davis’ 1971 LP, Live-Evil. This ambient excursion provides an occasion for Liebman and his cohorts to re-harmonize and re-configure what Davis did. CD 1 concludes with a nearly 13-minute translation of John Coltrane’s “India,” which is replete with melodic imagination, unfettered musicianship, and balanced—but at the same time unrestrained—sections. Liebman has recorded “India” using several different arrangements and he admits, “for me, this tune represents that part of Coltrane’s oeuvre that explored world music before it was fashionable.” Examining this makes a person realize how Liebman can use something familiar and turn it into something fresh and consummate.

The second CD has a similar setup. The fivesome starts with Liebman’s multifaceted “Surreality,” the title track from Liebman’s 2012 solo effort, Surreality. The electric style supplies a distinctive tone which contrasts to what Liebman did in 2012, and the extensive 9:13 presentation furnishes lots of room for the group to expound on the melody, and broaden the groove and rhythmic current. A few new cuts allow listeners to hear the band expand on their creativity. Liebman’s “The Moors” utilizes a Spanish Phyrgian mode and is ascetically picturesque and touched with a nocturnal or nighttime texture, with a dark rhythmic pulse highlighted by Marino’s dimly-lit electric bass lines and Ritz’s frame drum. There are two works which are from the David Liebman Group’s 2013 album, Samsara. Avey’s “Liberian Hummingbird” is fronted by Liebman and Vashlishan’s twinned saxes, a propulsive and lightly funky pace, and a fusion/funk feel maintained by the electric keys and impelling bass. The other Samsara track is an unhurriedly absorbed rendering of Thelonious Monk’s “Ugly Beauty,” where Avey tackles Monk’s balladic confluence by shifting the harmonic and rhythmic configuration.

The second CD ends in an unexpected way with songs connected with pop music and French classical music. First, there is an affectionate and flowing cover of “Love Me Tender,” made famous by Elvis Presley. “Love Me Tender” was adapted from the sentimental Civil War ballad titled “Aura Lee,” which Liebman studied as an early music student. The band then goes into the opposite area with a reworking of Olivier Messiaen’s “Danse de la Fureur” (yet another tune found on 2015’s The Puzzle). This 8:31 piece forays into almost free jazz terrain, buttressed by Ritz’s protracted drum solo summary, Avey’s distorted and bass-heavy digital keyboard sounds, and doubled and atonal saxes sifted with light reverb. Liebman states in his liner notes, “it is in the live performance that you really can feel a band’s particular kind of energy.” Listeners will certainly understand Liebman’s sentiment while experiencing Expansions Live.

CD 1: Introduction of band members; JJ; Continues to Ignore; All Blues; Vendetta; Good Bait; Selim; India
CD 2: Surreality; The Moors; Footprints; Ugly Beauty; Liberian Hummingbird; Love Me Tender; Danse de la Fureur

—Doug Simpson

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