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Steuart Liebig/Tee-Tot Quartet: Always Outnumbered

“Tee-tot” is an apt onomatopoeic term for the semi-drunk, limping rhythms put across by this oddball quartet. Led by West Coast “contrabassguitarist” Steuart Liebig, the group boasts a frontline of cornet (Dan Clucas) and Dobro (Scot Ray), with Joseph Berardi supplying understated drums and percussion. The music’s warped, blues-jazz flavor belies its chamberlike precision; it’s something Dave Douglas and Bill Frisell might have come up with if locked in a room together. The themes-usually voiced by cornet and Dobro in unison-defy any clear major-minor schema, reflecting Liebig’s head for atonal composition but also his love of musical tongue-in-cheek.

There’s a sparse, haunted, far-off quality to some pieces, such as “Serenade,” “Fearless” and “Mercy Kitchen,” balanced by the smartass surf-rock of “Bobtail,” the wobbly bright-tempo swing of “Chucktown” and the disjointed beat of “Barrelfoot Grind.” Clucas moves between muted and open horn, while Berardi uses brushes to give even the more assertive pieces a gentler impact. Ray, who has recorded as a trombonist (hear 2003’s Active Vapor Recovery featuring Nels Cline), gets a fantastically pure tone from the Dobro on the quieter tracks, though the instrument sounds less unique, more like a conventional guitar, when Ray opts for distortion.

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