[JPL] Saxophonic Celebration, With Much Symbiosis

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 15 18:40:38 EDT 2006

September 15, 2006
Music Review
Saxophonic Celebration, With Much Symbiosis 
The saxophonist David Liebman has all the credentials
of a major eminence in modern jazz. In the 1960’s he
worshiped at the altar of John Coltrane; in the 1970s
he toured with Miles Davis. He has led a handful of
fine ensembles through the years, and toiled as a
sideman in many others. Among fellow saxophonists and
fellow educators, his reputation is ironclad.

But perhaps because of the mainstream jazz world’s
lingering ambivalence about free jazz and fusion, Mr.
Liebman remains something other than a household name.
To his credit he has reveled in the freedom of this
position: last year he released no fewer than four
albums on independent labels. One of them, “Different
but the Same” (Hat Hut), provided a compelling
starting point for Mr. Liebman’s belated 60th birthday
celebration at Birdland this week. (He will perform
tonight with a big band, and tomorrow with a sextet
billed as “Music of Miles and Coltrane.”) 

“Different but the Same” documents a quartet inspired
by Mr. Liebman’s rapport with a former student, the
tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. Each has a close
compatriot in the band: the bassist Tony Marino, who
has worked with Mr. Liebman for the past 15 years, and
the drummer Jim Black, whose history with Mr. Eskelin
stretches back nearly as far. 

In its first set on Wednesday night, the group covered
a broad swath of post-bop territory. “Tie Those
Laces,” by Mr. Liebman, began with a halting theme
that suited its composer, then plunged into section of
swing in 11/4 meter for a solo by Mr. Eskelin. The two
tenors — Mr. Liebman left his soprano at home —
presented a subtle kind of contrast. Mr. Liebman was
the more fluid technician and the more harmonically
adept soloist, but Mr. Eskelin’s playing was
appealingly forceful, and his tone had an effective

On a clever exercise that overlaid Cole Porter’s “What
Is This Thing Called Love?” with two songs built on
its chord structure, Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” and
Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” the saxophonists
engaged in a dual improvisation, reaching a state of
deep symbiosis. But it was when Mr. Liebman soloed
that the performance peaked; he summoned the
locomotion of Coltrane without losing his own steam.

Mr. Eskelin had a comparable showcase on one of his
own compositions, “It’s a Samba.” While it wasn’t much
of a samba, it did clear a path for Mr. Eskelin’s
energetic bluster, and for a virtuoso turn by Mr.
Black. He started quietly — coaxing overtones from his
cymbals with a violin bow, thrumming his fingers on a
high tom like a tabla player — and worked his way up
to a fury.

“Ghosts,” the Albert Ayler song that closed the set,
sustained a similar intensity. Mr. Black and Mr.
Marino threw themselves into a loose-tempo turmoil, as
Mr. Liebman ranted and Mr. Eskelin raged. Both tenors
attacked the theme with a sense of rigor; each seemed
inspired by the other. 

David Liebman continues tonight and tomorrow at
Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton, (212)
581-3080, birdlandjazz.com.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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