A powerful testament to the abilities of saxophonist Dave Liebman’s current quintet, Expansions Live was compiled from live recordings in three cities. It’s divided into “acoustic” and “electric” discs, but this categorization isn’t entirely accurate—Bobby Avey plays electric keys on the so-called acoustic disc’s spooky run through Hermeto Pascoal’s “Selim”—and anyway, the band’s basic approach doesn’t change all that much when a couple of its members plug in. The central goal remains the same: to stretch rhythms, melodies and chords as far as they can go.
Take, for example, the group’s spirited rendition of “All Blues.” It’s played at a brisk pace in a kind of chromatic shorthand, with Liebman and fellow reedman Matt Vashlishan (on alto saxophone here) competing on how out they can get while still, just barely, adhering to the outlines of the head. Avey’s piano solo starts off quiet and impressionistic, evoking swirly cloud formations, then builds to a crescendo of jagged McCoy Tyner-esque chords. His multidimensional playing, not just here but throughout the album, is a continual highlight reel.