Tag Archives: dave liebman


George Carlin’s birthday was a little over one week ago. He would have been 74. Now, I strive to keep this a music-oriented blog despite my other deep interests (politics/current events and stand-up comedy). However, Carlin is worth mentioning here because he’s artistically relevant to one of this blog’s recurring topics: aesthetic authenticity.

Without getting too deep into it, I consider him to be one of the greatest minds and voices of the twentieth century. Seriously. (I have all of the HBO specials and most of the albums to prove it. ūüôā ) Yes, he was “a comic.” But he was also so much more. Though there were strains of it when we started out in the 50s, eventually his material was more akin to philosophical, linguistic, satirical, and political essays peppered with jokes, as opposed to a series of one-liners mixed in with anecdotes. It didn’t matter whether or not you agreed with his point of view; the goal was to open the listener’s mind to new ways of analyzing topics or issues. This is something he was very consciously aware of, as evidenced in this interview, during which he says he eventually considered himself an essayist who performed.

Last year I read¬†Last Words¬†(his autobiography, published posthumously), and was struck by just how obsessed he was throughout his career with identifying and honing what he called “my authentic voice.” This of course is arguably the primary dilemma for an artist – truly expressing oneself. Whether you’re a fan or not, this book serves as a masterclass of sorts in authenticity. In case you’re unfamiliar, Carlin started out as a very straight-laced, mainstream, and commercially successful act in the 1950s.The 70s, however, saw Carlin reintroduce himself as the real George: hippie, counter-culture provocateur, and social critic. Two excerpts from the cleverly-titled chapter “The Long Epiphany” wonderfully distill this process:

1. “But mainly I had to explain myself to me. What had been pulling at me all this time, dragging me away from the old approach and toward the new, was the lack of my voice in my work. The absence of me in my act. I would say, ‘I wasn’t in my act. I was all these other people.’ And I would introduce them all, the old familiar characters, one by one, to make the point.” (p. 146)

2. “I would no longer deal with subjects that were expected of me, in ways which had been determined by others. I would determine the ways. My own experiences would be the subject. I went into myself, I discovered my own voice and I found it authentic. So, apparently, did the audiences in the coffeehouses I was now playing. And while I was back to making no money, when they laughed now it felt great. I was getting votes of confidence for the path I had taken. They were reaffirming something that I felt and now was able to think through as well as feel. It meant I was right. Which strengthened my resolve to carry this through.” (p. 152)

[Note: Imagine my surprise, and joy, in reading Dave Liebman’s endorsement of this book for similar reasons in his May newsletter a few weeks ago.]

These words ring as true for me now as they did upon first read. It’s great – necessary – to have influences, and it’s equally important to emulate them. However, eventually one must move beyond his/her influences and training to develop the inner voice that’s dying to get out. I implied this in an earlier post, and hope to delve deeper into the topic at some point. For now, though, I simply want to highlight George…

I was fortunate to see Carlin perform live three times. It was very interesting for me, both as a fan and as a performer, because all three performances were in preparation for what became his final HBO special, It’s Bad For Ya (2008). For context, the actual special was recorded March 1, 2008. The performances I saw were as follows: January 2007 (Ann Arbor, MI), July 2007 (Las Vegas, NV), March 2008 (East Lansing, MI). I note this because I was able to see the material develop from scattered notes to a scripted, seamless 60+ minute performance. It was a tremendous peek into Carlin’s creative process. Some highlights:
January 2007: He informally took the stage with a stack of loose notes and papers and prefaced this show with (I’m paraphrasing): “You’ll have to excuse me, as this won’t be like the shows you’re used to seeing on HBO and hearing on record. I have a whole new hour of material, in no particular order, and I don’t know just how any of them work just yet. This is more of a test drive, but I promise you’ll laugh.” AND I DID! That night was one of the hardest I’ve ever laughed. But he was true to his word – it was more akin to alternative comedy than Carlin’s traditional style of rapid-fire storytelling and joke-telling. He would take a paper from his stack, remind himself of the joke/outline, extemporize, then move on to the next note.
July 2007: No notes; a cold open with no disclaimer. Six months later, the material was now in its third or fourth draft. You could tell that there was a set order and that he was working out the rhythm. Also, a number of topics were dropped, while a few new ones had been incorporated. Just as funny. ūüôā
March 2008: By this time, the HBO special had been taped/aired (live). Carlin’s trademark style had returned, and the show was by then a well-oiled machine. The material’s order had once again been changed, but the overall content remained unchanged. Final draft, no further revision. Vintage GC.

So, a few nuggets of GC info and memories. To close, I’d like to highlight arguably my favorite Carlin essay (as I’m sure he considered it). It addresses his favorite topic: language. Specifically, it’s an all-out assault on one of his worst enemies: euphemisms. Part of his obsession with language was that because we think¬†in language, then the better and clearer we use language the better we can convey our thoughts.¬†I’ve gone through it probably 100 times (the live performance from 1990’s¬†Doin’ It Again is priceless) and find it just as funny and thought-provoking as the first.

George Carlin: Euphemistic Language

*Update*: Here’s the live version form Doin’ It Again (slightly NSFW):

New Listens: Recent hit parade

Holiday travel and a busy start to 2011 really slowed down the New Listen posts. However, I’ve still been acquiring and absorbing all kinds of new albums the last few months. Instead of giving a blow-by-blow account of each one, I thought I’d simply list them in “autobiographical” order (to reference the great Rob Gordon in High Fidelity). They’re all quite good, and some of them – notably Anniversary!, Mostly Coltrane, and¬†King of Limbs, among others¬†– were instant classics in my library.

I’m often curious as to what others are listening to, which is why I wanted to offer something about the new music I’ve acquired over the last few months. Hopefully, now that I’m a bit “caught up” in that department, the New Listens will resume regular appearances. ūüôā¬†Feel free to email me for any specific descriptions/questions.

Dave Matthews Band: Live Trax Vol. 19: Vivo Rio – 09.30.08, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Dave Matthews Band: Live in New York City & The Big Apple
Stan Getz: Anniversary!
Herbie Hancock: Fat Albert Rotunda
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: The E Street Shuffle
Air: Moon Safari
Dave Liebman: As Always
Dave Liebman: Negative Space
Grateful Dead: American Beauty
Grateful Dead: From the Mars Hotel
Grateful Dead: Truckin’ Up To Buffalo (Live 07.04.89)
Trio Mediaeval: Stella Maris
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Into The Great Wide Open
Steve Kuhn Trio w. Joe Lovano: Mostly Coltrane
Elton John: The Big Picture
Dave Liebman: Lookout Farm 1974/75 (Deluxe Edition) – box set
Dave Liebman: Quest Live 1988 + 1991 (Deluxe Edition) – box set
Jenny & Johnny: I’m Having Fun Now
Jeff Coffin: Commonality
Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV
Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine
Radiohead: King of Limbs
Grant Green: Grantstand
Rilo Kiley: Take Offs and Landings
Smashing Pumpkins: Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (gradual, as released…)

New Listen: Dave Liebman’s ‘Ornette Plus’

Artist: The Dave Liebman Group
Album: Ornette Plus (2010)

As expected, Dave Liebman has continued to expand his mammoth catalogue in 2010. ¬†A number of releases have dropped in the last few months, but this particular record – I still use the word even though this is an iTunes-only release! – has flown somewhat under the radar. ¬†While I still need to catch up on a number of the other releases, I can assure you that this one simply isn’t an afterthought (when compared to its more publicized counterparts).

The Dave Liebman Group is:
Vic Juris – Guitar
Dave Liebman – Saxophone
Marko Marcinko – Drums
Tony Marino – Bass

Ornette Plus serves as a live b-side of sorts to DLG’s recently-released studio album¬†Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2010). ¬†It features performances of three Coleman tunes – “Turnaround,” “Lonely Woman,” and “Cross Beeding” – as well as an adventurous 30-minute interpretation of Vic Juris’s “Victim.” ¬†DLG is, hands down, arguably the best live ensemble I’ve seen. ¬†Musicality and virtuosity aside, they have an unparalleled telepathy and empathy that allow them to convey a dynamic, unified message. ¬†(If you ever have the chance to see them, take advantage of it; you won’t regret it.)

“Turnaround” kicks off the album nicely. ¬†While maintaining a number of the “free” aspects, it’s full of two things: groove and the blues. ¬†Even though the pulse tends to fluctuate, there’s always a deep, dirty groove. ¬†The melody here features a wonderful heterophony between Liebman (tenor) and Juris (guitar) – one of the group’s hallmarks. ¬†Those two have a truly impressive ability to move together melodically without 1) requiring the dreaded unison and 2) stepping on each others’ toes. ¬†Before reprising the final melody, there’s some great call-and-response between these two lead players. ¬†Bluesy and gritty, this is a great opener; a nice way to “ease” the listener into the more exploratory performances.

If you’re looking for something similar to the original “Lonely Woman,” then listen elsewhere. ¬†The ensemble displays its collective abilities here, creating an ambient, quasi-electronic soundscape that sends the listener to another world. ¬†Liebman trades in the sax for a wooden flute, soaring over a pulse-less backdrop of harmonic texture, drones, cymbals, and tribal percussion. ¬†It’s almost difficult to believe it’s the same group, let alone the same album; a nice contrast to the opener.

“Cross Beeding” is pure Ornette. ¬†After a brief solo introduction on soprano saxophone, Lieb and Juris once again lead the group heterophonically in a more “traditional” frenetic and stilted Coleman manner. ¬†Abruptly changing pace, Marino shines on the bass, soloing over a spooky, ambient backdrop similar to “Lonely Woman.” ¬†Gradually the entire ensemble joins, and Marcinko drives the rhythmic activity, escalating until the whole group is drunkenly dancing about at the end.

The album “closes” (it’s the entire second half) with “Victim,” a Juris original. ¬†Not only does the quartet explore collectively here, but each member also gets a chance to shine in the spotlight. ¬†The Coleman compositions were bent more towards featuring the ensemble as a whole, not unlike a classical concerto for orchestra. ¬†“Victim,” however, allows each soloist to speak freely, with only two brief, burning statements of the melody. ¬†(A live performance was also released on 2008’s online release¬†Further Conversations, but this one stretches much farther.) ¬†Even though all of the tunes on this album aren’t from a single performance, this rendition of “Victim” ties the album together by both hinting at a number of styles explored earlier – free, ambient, and rhythmic – and via Lieb’s brief (un/intentional?) quoting of “Turnaround.” ¬†(The latter’s quite impressive if from a separate performance.) ¬†It also forges new paths, featuring more extended techniques, solo play, and fast, hard-driving swing. ¬†Vintage DLG.

This was unintentionally a longer review than usual, but that’s because this album is worth it! It may not be the best place to start with Dave Liebman if you’ve not listened to him before – or much “progressive” jazz in general – but this should serve as a real treat to those familiar and/or those with adventurous taste. ¬†Do give this hidden gem a listen (or five or ten!) – you’ll be glad you did!

*And for those interested in improvisatory performance styles of any kind, this album (along with any other by DLG) is one of the best masterclasses you could have.*

iTunes Link

New Listen: Dave Liebman‚Äôs ‚ÄėJoy‚Äô

Artist: Dave Liebman, w. James Madison University Jazz Ensemble
Album: Joy: The Music of John Coltrane (1993)

I found this rare gem at Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart a couple months back. Being a big Dave Liebman fan, I was taken aback because I hadn’t before heard of this album. (That’s not surprising, though, considering the depth and breadth of his output.) This immediately stood out to me for two reason:

1. The album is the delayed companion to his earlier Homage to John Coltrane (1987), perhaps my favorite studio album of his. Most of the arrangements here are modeled after his combo arrangements from its predecessor.
2. The personnel includes Butch Taylor and John D’Earth, two Virginia-area heavy-hitters who at different points in time have been integral in the evolution of the Dave Matthews Band as sidemen. I was excited to hear both of them, especially Butch, play in a pure jazz environment. At the time this was recorded, DMB was still relatively unknown outside of Virginia.

Without doing a “double entry,” it’s worth noting that this album is most fully appreciated if you’re familiar with Homage to John Coltrane. Liebman, a strong champion of Coltrane, especially his later work (1964-7), often features creative, original arrangements of Coltrane pieces, especially of the lesser-known works. (In both albums’ cases, the combined “Joy/Selflessness” is a prime example.) In the spirit of homages and champions, it’s also worth noting that the band here is led by Gunnar Mossblad, a strong proponent of Dave Liebman’s musical contributions. Now that you have an idea of this album’s somewhat convoluted “bloodline,” I can discuss some of the music.

The album opens with ominous percussion and rain-like effects, going a few extra steps to set the mood for the first piece (“After The Rain”). However the first number doesn’t feature big band, but rather flute choir (JMU Flute Choir, including bass clarinet) featuring Liebman’s soaring soprano (which he plays exclusively throughout). It may look odd on paper but it works nicely. (It’s also fitting if you’re aware of Liebman’s penchant for flute.) The big band kicks it into high gear on the next selection, almost as if they’d been waiting in the wings for the flute choir to finish. They plow through an engaging arrangement of “Untitled Original” (an unnamed Coltrane tune caught on several recordings before he died). It’s worth noting that while this is mostly a student ensemble, the rhythm section is “stacked” here with local pros (including Butch Taylor on piano), with John D’Earth filling in the trumpet section. Gunnar also is featured on tenor saxophone as occasional dual-soloist with Liebman on the dark, unsettling “Alabama.” They two wind men also display their skills on wooden flutes in “India.”

For those familiar, this album is classic Liebman – complex, intense, eclectic, equal parts soothing and inaccessible, and original. For those looking for a more traditional “college big band” sound, the only thing that comes close is the arrangement of “Naima.” Otherwise the arrangements aren’t your typical big band pieces. My personal favorite is the closer, “Joy/Selflessness” (a combining of two Coltrane numbers), the arrangement of which – done by Liebman and Jim McNeeley – is modeled closely after Liebman’s on Homage. They take an already altered chromatic progression for “Joy” and add even more color, with the winds providing a nice counterpoint to Lieb’s soprano. Including the “help” in the rhythm section really helps to keep this album from seeming like just another jazz artist sitting in with college students. (The students do a fine job of handling these difficult ararngements.) Instead the ensemble works as a whole, and it’s a nice end product.

For those DMB completists (like myself – this album was a dream find, combining my two Daves, Liebman and Matthews), Taylor and D’Earth do get their time to shine. Keep in mind, however, this is Dave Liebman’s album. Butch gets decent solo space on “Untitled Original” and “Naima.” It’s great to hear him play changes, divorced from a more rock-based setting. As for D’Earth, he helps take “India” into another realm, hanging with Lieb every step of the way.

I highly recommend this for any fans of Liebman, late Coltrane, or progressive jazz in general. (And any DMB completist looking to widen his/her palette, of course!) It’s quite difficult to find physical CD copies, but it’s easily accessible via purchased download online.

Amazon link
iTunes link