When it comes to improvisational savvy and interpretive insight, it doesn’t get any better than these two. NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman has decoded and developed numerous forms of language over the course of the past 50 years, exploring and expanding the boundaries of jazz while establishing himself as a guiding light in the music. French pianist Martial Solal, who recently entered the nonagenarian club, is one of the crown jewels of the European jazz world, serving as a direct link to everybody from Sidney Bechet to Paul Motian to Dave Douglas.
There’s never been anything predictable about how these men operate in their individual pursuits, so it should come as no shock that their duo is full of surprises. All six of the tunes they perform here may be incredibly well worn, but Liebman and Solal reinvigorate each one. Their takes on classics are mildly transgressive yet highly accessible, playful and probing in nature but lyrical and tradition-minded at the core. It’s hard to believe that any program including “Night and Day,” “Solar” and “On Green Dolphin Street” could possibly be capable of providing a real taste of the unexpected, but this one beats the odds.
Solal’s teetering foundations and Liebman’s searching soprano set the scene for an “All the Things You Are” that’s absolutely ripe and tasty, complete with impish play atop solid form outlining. “What Is This Thing Called Love” opens with a minute of Sonny Rollins-esque carnival-barker lines from Liebman before the real games begin. And “Lover Man” is set adrift, floating pleasurably on and off course. Liebman and Solal maintain dual musical citizenship with this one, existing as the ultimate insiders and outliers.