There aren’t many electric-bass guitarists running around the avant-improv circles where Steuart Liebig tends to dwell. The unorthodox timbre of plugged-in bass is especially noticeable on his chamberesque project Delta, featuring the refreshing instrumental combination of flutist Ellen Burr, clarinetist Andrew Pask and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. This group, the Stigtette, traverses a rarely traveled and carefully plotted terrain where free playing meets writing vaguely nodding in the direction of such 20th-century modernists as Stravinsky and Hindemith.
If playful wit enters the picture through titles like “Dynamite’s Dionysian Dance” and “Secret One-Hand Shake,” the music itself tends to be more somber in spirit. Vibrant energy isn’t lacking, though, as the players give buoyant life to the lively cadences and terse harmonies of Liebig’s writing.
In the strange dynamics of this group, the unusually versatile wind players hug the road of the composer’s tightly scored and sometimes tricky parts and veer off tastefully into improvisational turf where so directed, mostly in tasteful collective free-for-alls rather than focusing on solo statements. Meanwhile, Liebig has his hands and mind full: detached from the main textural color of the ensemble by his hermetic, electric sound, Liebig serves as a surrogate rhythm section, at once grounding with bass parts and supplying a percussive role.
What to call this quasi-avant-jazz-chamber concoction? To the leader’s credit, “Stigtette music” works just fine.