Newly minted NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman has been releasing a lot of albums lately. Now here’s another one too good to let pass without mention, on which Liebman and his longstanding quartet successfully take on the music of Ornette Coleman.
Liebman’s album notes confess that Coleman’s influence on him was less pronounced than it was on others of his generation, mostly due to Liebman’s strong interest in harmony. (“For the most part,” he writes, “Ornette’s brand of ‘free-bop’ doesn’t really place much importance on harmony per se.”) Yet it’s hard to imagine Coleman’s music getting a more sympathetic or effective reconsideration. The blues-based title cut is the most easily recognizable of the 10 Coleman compositions to turn up here. The least recognizable is another Ornette standard, “Lonely Woman,” which Liebman performs on a wood flute with ethereal support from his bandmates, the combination suggesting a searching cry from a precipice into outer space.
Bassist Tony Marino has notable solos on “Una Muy Bonita,” “The Blessing” and “Face of the Bass,” the latter a duo performance with drummer/percussionist Marko Marcinko that bleeds into Liebman and guitarist Vic Juris performing a beautiful and contemplative “Beauty Is a Rare Thing.” Juris’ range is especially impressive. From tune to tune his playing evokes everyone from bop-oriented players like Kenny Burrell and Russell Malone (“Enfant,” “Bird Food”), to the funky electronics of Mike Stern and John Scofield on later Miles Davis albums (“Turnaround,” “Cross Breeding”), and the classical-leaning lyricism of Ralph Towner and Pat Metheny (“Kathelin Gray,” “Beauty Is a Rare Thing,” “Una Muy Bonita”). Liebman alternates tenor and soprano saxophones, arranges nine of the Coleman pieces and contributes a set-ending composition of his own—all masterfully.