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David Liebman: The Elements: Water, Giver of Life

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In the ’70s Liebman established himself as a top saxophonist but he’s also been a provocative composer for some time. This CD and three others that hopefully will follow (Earth, Air and Fire) were inspired by Leibman’s reaction to the natural world and represent his most ambitious compositional project to date. The opening theme on the first track of this suite contains the melodic and harmonic basis on which all of the other pieces are constructed. Dave has selected one or two chords from this initial theme to employ on subsequent compositions, augmenting them with additional material, e.g., additional chords. Rhythmically there’s considerable variation from track to track, and the mood on them ranges from somber to buoyant.

Joining Liebman here are guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart. They produce a greater variety of timbres and textures than most quartets due to Liebman doubling on tenor and soprano sax and wood flute and Metheny employing several guitars: acoustic, electric, guitar-synth and Picasso guitar. Each group member plays impressively. Liebman had been performing on soprano for some years until recently, when he went back to tenor again. He does a consummate job on all instruments, improvising meaty lines and pacing himself intelligently. He’s got a bright, attractive soprano sound and displays considerable rhythmic grace when playing the instrument. On tenor he’s powerful; his solid full lower register work deserves special attention. And what a nice, big flute sound he produces!

Metheny impresses throughout. He contributes some inventive straight-ahead solos, but I was most impressed with his violent, screaming work on “Whitecaps.” He didn’t open up like this too often earlier, and it’s becoming. McBee lifts and drives the group with walloping power and Hart’s impeccable-playing crisply and sensitively.