Live at the Village Vanguard
By 1978, David Liebman had played with Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, founded the adventurous cooperative Free Life Communications and led a funk band with James Brown alum Pee Wee Ellis. Early that year, he booked a week at the Village Vanguard. The gig reunited him with pianist Richie Beirach, combining their previous flights of freedom in a grounded, straightahead setting. Trumpeter Randy Brecker joined the frontline while bassist Frank Tusa and drummer Al Foster helmed the rhythm section.
The group on the Mosaic Select Pendulum set didn’t last beyond that February week, though Beirach and Liebman would continue to work together closely, in duos and groups like Quest, which included Foster. The three discs recall a transitional time for jazz when musicians had freedom, fusion and tradition to draw on in their playing. Aside from three originals, the group expands on material like “Impressions,” “Footprints” and a few standards (“Night and Day” and “There Is No Greater Love”). The set list was called on the Vanguard stage and most tracks last well beyond a quarter of an hour. The loose nature and the anything-goes mood of the time brought out the best in the group.
Artist House released the three tracks on disc one at that time, while the remaining discs are having their first release here. The Beirach composition that gave the group its name opens things with a static F-sharp vamp that the group exploits for over 18 minutes. Throughout, Liebman uses elements of his Coltrane influence (he plays tenor and soprano here), in tone and spastic runs. Brecker, of course, is the master soloist, stretching out and never at a loss for ideas. Beirach, nicknamed “The Code” for his ability to fuse divergent influences, seems to inspire his bandmates with subtle shading. That understated quality filters through the whole set because even though the group’s sound might have been considered standard at the time, its method of execution and soloing sounds radical in a melodic sense.
These days, Liebman still draws on his Trane influence but it comes up in some original situations. Negative Space, a set of live recordings from 2005 with an Italian trio, features “G.I.G,” a tribute to George Gershwin with harmonic shadings that recall “Giant Steps.” His re-harmonized “Poinciana” likewise seems to nod to “Naima.” Whatever the setting, he sounds stunning. Liebman is one of the few soprano saxophonists who make that horn sound muscular, as he does on the original “Get Me Back to the Apple,” which starts with solos and works its way back to a theme.
Oddly, the saxophonist’s liner notes treat this disc like a debut, as if he forgot the same group released Dream of Nite late last year. Regardless, Negative Space serves as the faster, more aggressive counterpoint to the reflective forerunner, and both should be heard.