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Michael Brecker/Joe Lovano/David Liebman: Gathering of Spirits

This album is ridiculously good, even better than I expected, and my expectations were very high-as well they might be, given that these three follicle-challenged gents may just be the best tenor players in the world. I can’t remember the last time I heard an album featuring multiple saxophonists with such distinctive, individualized approaches-Charlie Parker, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter on an early ’50s Norman Granz-produced session, perhaps?

The virtues of originality are on full display-Lovano’s wooly-toned, Cy Twombly-esque linearity; Brecker’s immaculately shaped melodies, moving in-and-out of time (and the changes) as naturally as breathing; Liebman’s stream-of-consciousness flurries delivered with incorrigible intensity. The interaction between the saxophonists is competitive only in the best sense, and the rhythm section (Cecil McBee, bass; Billy Hart, drums; Phil Markowitz, piano) is superb. The tunes are great, the execution strong and spirited.

Lovano’s boppish “Alexander the Great” is complemented by Brecker’s and Liebman’s looser compositions and a pair of Coltrane tunes. As usual, the maniacally focused Liebman (who plays soprano here for the most part) sounds like he’s got something to prove. He doesn’t, of course, but who could blame him for feeling that way? Whereas Brecker might be the world’s most famous living tenor player, and Lovano must have naked pictures of someone at Blue Note (how else to explain the label’s release of the wonderfully idiosyncratic Trio Fascination, Edition Two?), Liebman’s spent his most creative years recording for indies. He’s always deserved the kind of attention gotten by Brecker and Lovano-and anyway, he was way bald back when Brecker had big hair; that’s got to count for something.

Originally Published