Tag Archives: dave liebman

Dave Liebman’s Expansions at Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House


Dave Liebman descended upon Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House Tuesday evening with his new group Expansions, officially kicking off the band’s fall tour in support of 2015’s The Puzzle. The ~85-minute set was a shock-and-awe campaign of sound that covered a wide stylistic range.

This was my first time seeing Expansions in the flesh, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that it was my favorite time seeing the maestro live. Expansions features Lieb (soprano saxophone, wooden flute), Matt Vashlishan (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet), Bobby Avey (piano, electric keyboard), Tony Marino (acoustic and electric basses), and Alex Ritz (drums, frame drum). Save Marino, who’s played with Liebman for the last couple decades in DLG and other ensembles, the rest of the members are of a younger generation. And even though this band is only in its third year, the communication and empathy are top shelf.

With Lieb’s mammoth discography and resume that covers just about every style, configuration, and name, he has maintained a series of primary groups over the years. I mention this because throughout Tuesday’s performance I kept thinking that, at least as a starting point, Expansions is in some ways the eventual synthesis of three of those staple bands: Lookout Farm, Quest, and Dave Liebman Group. There was the electric & fusion explorations of Lookout Farm; the tasteful incorporation of the advanced harmonic — almost classical — vocabulary of Quest; and the eclecticism, adventurism, and telepathy of DLG. But of course Expansions is much more than a synthesis of old projects. The addition of a second horn — sax or otherwise — has been part of some of his other projects (e.g., his work with Ellery Eskelin, Terumasa Hino, Steve Grossman, and of course Miles), but Vashlishan’s deft multi-instrumental aptitude helps to greatly expand the ensemble’s sound and palette. This is nicely complemented by the inclusion, at times, of electric keys and electric bass. The flexible orchestration gives this quintet an expansive sound. (No pun intended.) Finally, the more youthful lineup naturally brings with it a new range of musical perspectives, interests, and influences into the fold.

The fiery set featured six pieces, all but the final two of which were recorded for The Puzzle. Getting right to it, the band started with “Off And Off,” in which the quintet gradually entering in canon via a 12-tone row and eventually uniting at the head’s end and catapulting into stratospheric solos. This nicely set the tone for the rest of the evening: Liebman’s slithering, forceful statements juxtaposed with Vashlishan’s more angular declamations; Avey’s equal parts nimble and dense accompaniment and lead playing; Ritz’s command of both rhythm and melody on percussion; all atop Marino’s foreboding foundation. Unlike other times I’ve seen Liebman, there was only one very fast burnin’ section and it was reserved for the set’s end. Instead this group lumbered mightily along, leaving nothing in its wake except for jaws on the floor. “Off And Off” was followed by “The Puzzle,” allowing the ensemble – collectively and individually – to branch further out, with the listener on edge throughout as to what would happen next. Somewhat of an inverse of “Off And Off,” the full band started the tune, eventually thinning out to solo piano in the middle of the improvisations, and building back towards the end.

For “Sailing,” Vashlishan (the tune’s composer) moved to flute and Avey to electric keys, giving the group a Lookout Farm-esque veneer. The soothing flute and soprano lines coupled with the dreamy harmonies offered a quick respite between more intense explorations. With Marino then switching to electric bass and Vashlishan hopping to clarinet, the band performed an inventive arrangement of “Danse De La Fureur” from Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). Ritz nearly stole the show with his impressively melodic drum solo introduction. Had Liebman not even announced the piece’s name, I would’ve recognized it by Ritz’s drumming and interpolations alone. It was both that spot on and creative. This gave way to a cacophonous electric romp that continued to anxiously build through the final statement. A furious dance indeed.

Sticking with the electric vibe, Avey’s “Liberian Hummingbird” (from 2014’s Samsara) did what seemed impossible at this point in the program: kicked the band into overdrive. The funk-laden, odd-metered vortex of a vamp swirled with dark intensity throughout, and compounded by both the return to a two-sax frontline and Avey’s use of both acoustic piano and electric keys it provided the set’s densest texture. It was simply enveloping.

Returning to an acoustic instrumentation, whatever stops remained were pulled out and disposed of with a heavy rendition of Coltrane’s “India.” Ritz began with a frame drum solo, eventually giving way to the primal cries of Liebman on wooden flute and Vashlishan on straw. This arrangement featured a slightly off-kilter take on Trane’s famous melody over a plodding wall of sound. After Vashlishan’s final solo and Avey’s largely a capella, almost impressionist solo, Lieb and Ritz poured gas on the fire and offered up a barn-burning sax & drum duet, eventually leading to the group’s final statements to close the show.

I’ve done my fair share of gushing about Dave Liebman on this site, including album reviews, live reviews, and more, and I suppose this entry is no different. However, it’s certainly justified. And, as Tuesday’s performance demonstrated, Lieb of course shares the spotlight with his four collaborators. Yes, collaborators — not just band members. Expansions is clearly a group effort, with the whole being greater than the sum of its considerable parts. I look forward to seeing the group again sometime.

Expansions is currently on a Midwest tour, so I strongly encourage you to catch them if they’re in your area. I’d catch another performance if I could. To paraphrase Nathan Hale, I regret that I have but one night this week to give to Expansions…

Dave Liebman at the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival

This past weekend was something special: three disparate sets by Dave Liebman over as many days and stages at the Detroit Jazz Festival. I mentioned my excitement in my last post, and the performances met and exceeded the hype. Not only was it three days of The Master, but each performance featured a group I hadn’t before seen live.

Saturday’s headliner at the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage was Saxophone Summit: Lieb, Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, and Phil Markowitz. This burnin’ 75-minute set consisted of four tunes from the group’s debut album Gathering of Spirits: “Alexander the Great,” “The 12th Man,” “Tricycle,” and Trane’s “India.” After a bit of a loose start – mainly because of sound – it was off to the races with “Alexander the Great,” and the momentum let up not once. It may have just been the mix (i.e., balance) but it sounded as if the scoring was a bit different in parts. Either way I liked it. Cecil McBee’s dark bass lines gave the set a sinister undertone which I greatly enjoyed, and Jabali‘s driving yet unpredictable drumming continually propelled the group forward. And hats off to Phil Markowitz for such tasteful accompanying. He’s unafraid to both fill out the texture with dense harmonies and not play at all, and he knows exactly when to do both. “Tricycle” was perhaps the highlight, as each saxophonist got an opportunity to play in his own style – separate from the others – within the same piece. Lieb and Markowitz played a lovely improvised duo that could be transcribed and held up against most contemporary classical compositions; Lovano nimbly let loose over McBee and Hart’s drunken dance; Coltrane and Hart created an intense, fiery atmosphere reminiscent of the elder Trane and Elvin Jones. This led into Trane’s “India,” featuring Ravi on sopranino (with a great tone, something rarely heard on that instrument!), Lovano on tenor, and Lieb on soprano (and wood flute for the intro). Whatever was left of the metaphorical roof was decimated with Liebman’s final solo and Billy Hart’s drumming.

(photo by me)

Sunday’s set at the Absopure Pyramid Stage was a duo performance by Lieb and longtime collaborator Richie Beirach. I was particularly excited for this concert because one of the first Liebman recordings I remember experiencing was Tribute to John Coltrane, which features a superb duo performance of “After the Rain” into “Naima.” (And, having purchased so many Lookout Farm, Quest, and other related recordings since then, I was ready to see the real deal in person.) They kicked off their hour set with a lovely tenor/piano rendition of “‘Round Midnight” that traveled quite a stylistic journey: a gentle ballad to bookend frenetic, chromatic solos, finished off with an exploratory cadenza. Liebman showed that, while he’s a Mt. Rushmore-level soprano saxophonist, he’s also dangerous on the tenor. Next was Beirach’s haunting “Testament,” followed by Wayne Shorter’s “Prince of Darkness” and an intense “Footprints.” Their duo rendition of “Footprints” was more intense than most versions I’ve heard by full groups, with Lieb’s characteristic soprano stylings and the pair’s ultra-chromatic approach in full flight. Closing out the set was Liebman’s “Tender” and the Quest classic “Pendulum.” The latter was a nice whetting of the audience’s appetite for the next day’s performance.

(photo by me)

On Monday, Quest was featured at the Carhartt Ampitheater Stage, and it was a wonderful way to complete this triptych. Quest is a hard-charging acoustic quartet consisting of Liebman, Beirach, Billy Hart, and Ron McClure. Originally running from the early ’80s to ’91, Lieb exclusively played soprano with the group until the 2005 reunion. Living in Michigan, I thought I’d never be able to see this group without traveling to the east coast or overseas. (I’ve contemplated the former once or twice in the past.) Seeing them perform was a masterclass in ensemble communication. (The same could be said for the Lieb/Beirach duo and the now-defunct Dave Liebman Group.) Their musical empathy with one another allows for near telepathy, making the music unpredictable. They play without a safety net, and as a listener you know you’ll enjoy wherever they take you, even if it’s a complete mystery. They opened the set with a no-holds-barred “Pendulum” – their de facto theme – with Liebman on tenor. After the melody’s opening salvo, the group took off. Slowing things down a bit, next up was a treat for me: the Lookout Farm-era “M.D.” (Liebman). Of course, even Quest’s “slower” moments are rife with intensity, but they followed that up with a “Footprints” that took no prisoners – I thought his poor soprano would explode – and a “Re-Dial” that featured a complex collective improvisation. Beirach then demonstrated his command of both composition and improvisation on “Elm,” a beautiful ballad and now standard. (Or, rather, what best suits this quartet as a “ballad,” something still too strong for some listeners.) Much to my surprise, the group then played Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” featuring Lieb playing the wooden flute exclusively. In my review of DLG’s Ornette Plus – is mine really the only review of that album? – I praised DLG’s ability to create an almost electronic soundscape. Well, Quest may have one-upped that rendition, as they created a complementary haunting atmosphere with Lieb at the helm but with acoustic instruments. No pulse, just flowing sound and texture. It was definitely a highlight of the weekend. They then concluded their set with a version Wayne Shorter’s “Paraphernalia” that made Circular Dreaming‘s studio cut seem tame. Each time Billy Hart played his fleeting rock rhythms, I’m sure Danny Carey and Vinnie Paul felt a tremor in The Force. I’m surprised the stage remained standing at the performance’s end.

Needless to say, it was an amazing weekend. (…and I didn’t even discuss the great performances by Charles Lloyd and John Scofield!) I know that Dave is often considered “a musician’s musician,” which he definitely is, but I’m confident that he garnered many new fans over the weekend at the world’s largest free jazz festival. The NEA Jazz Master consistently demonstrated to the Detroit audience why he deserves to be counted among the pantheon of the jazz greats.

Heads Up: Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

The 34th annual Detroit Jazz Festival is this weekend in Motown. Detroit’s been picked on quite a bit these last few years, particularly in recent months, but the Motor City continues to thrive. One of the ways in which the city reigns is by continuing to host, and somehow continually improving, the world’s largest free jazz festival. And it’s not simply the fact that it’s both large and free that’s notable, but the fact that it features such a powerful lineup. (2013’s lineup is here.) I have neither the time nor space to go through all the artists individually, but suffice it to say that if you’re anywhere near Detroit this Friday-Monday you MUST head over and catch an act or three!

I’m especially excited this year – more so than any other time I’ve attended – as some of the headliners seem as though they’ve been curated to meet my tastes. Usually I’m seeing DMB at The Gorge over Labor Day Weekend, but not this year. I was originally deeply regretful about opting out of this year’s pilgrimage, but the DJF lineup made me quickly forget about it. Three of my favorite saxophonists will be performing, and regular readers of this blog should recognize at least a couple names.

DAVE LIEBMAN — The Master is performing three sets this weekend: one each with Saxophone Summit, Richie Beirach (duo performance), and Quest (!). If no one else I liked were performing, Lieb’s appearances alone would make this my most anticipated Jazz Fest. Wow. (A couple rare album reviews here and here, and MTH-V appearances here and here. And he is referenced in many other posts throughout this blog. And since Saxophone Summit also features Joe Lovano, here are a few great clips with him.)

CHARLES LLOYD — The saxophonist who always commands with subtle intensity. He’ll be performing a set featuring guitarist Bill Frisell immediately preceding Saxophone Summit Saturday night. (A Lloyd post is here.)

JAMES CARTER — Hometown hero and perhaps the greatest living technician of the instrument. (A couple Carter-centric posts are here and here.)

Those aside, I’m also quite looking forward to John Scofield’s Überjam Band and a host of others. You’d have to shell out a lot of bread to see just a couple of the acts that will be performing this weekend, but the fact that so many artists will be performing at a FREE festival is almost incomprehensible. As mentioned above, you must attend if at all possible…

MTH-V: Miles – Live in Berlin ’73

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been in an early Liebman & electric Miles kind of mood. Hence this week’s video. Miles’s pre-hiatus electric period is one of my favorites of his. For those fans of the addicting Dark Magus (1977), you should love this clip.

This was originally a television broadcast of a live performance, but I believe it’s since been circulated on one of the European bootleg outfits. (I have a number of those, but have yet to pick up this gem. I didn’t know it was available.) The video and audio quality are quite crisp for being so old and “lost.” For those Miles fans out there intimately familiar with The Miles Davis Story DVD, a clip or two from this concert (this particular clip, in fact) are included in the portion on his electric 1970s period.

A couple highlights (among many) in this clip:
1. Miles as Bandleader:  I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Miles as a bandleader. Here you see him “conducting” at time, especially during Liebman’s solo (3:34-5:20). Sure, his back was to the audience (gasp!), but what he was really doing was facing the band.
2. Liebman’s solo: On fire! (As always…)
3. THE BAND!: This core lineup is featured on a number of ~1973-5 recordings.
Miles Davis – Trumpet, Organ
Pete Cosey – Guitar, Percussion
Al Foster – Drums
Michael Henderson – Bass
Dave Liebman – Saxophones, Flute, Percussion
Reggie Lucas – Guitar
James Mtume – Percussion

Title: “Moja – Pt. 1” (or “Turnaround”)


MTH-V: Lieb & The Dave Liebman Group

I had a few other contenders in the running for this week’s posting, but decided to post the below video in honor of the amazing Dave Liebman Group performance I attended Sunday evening at Western Michigan University. Without turning this post into a full-blown concert review, suffice it to say that Sunday’s performance was mind-blowing, as expected. It wasn’t my first DLG show, and those  readers of this blog are likely familiar with my quasi-fanatic enthusiasm for Dave Liebman. (I was fortunate enough to take a lesson with him at his home in 2005, a lesson from which I’m still learning…) In case you’re unfamiliar with Liebman’s work and/or style, this week’s video serves as a nice primer. And if you already are acquainted with Lieb, hopefully it offers something new.

This video has been a favorite of mine for over five years. It was originally released in 2006 as part of Bret Primack‘s now-defunct Jazz Video Podcasts series. (Primack has done many wonderful things for documenting jazz on the internet over the years.) Bret offers a brief biographical introduction to Liebman specifically (under which you can see some classic footage of Quest), followed by a wonderful interview excerpt. Here Lieb succinctly describes his pedagogical approach. “3-H Club” (Head, Hands, Heart) may seem cute at first, but it runs deep and true.

The bulk of the video features the Dave Liebman Group live in Brazil performing Liebman’s “Nars Dream” (a contrafact of “Nardis”). While it may seem pretty “straight ahead” for DLG, it features a number of the group’s trademarks: fluidly shifting grooves, heterophonic sax & guitar interplay, complex harmonic extension, and a complete no-holds-barred, nothing-to-lose attitude.

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

While “Nars Dream” is no free improvisation, you can still get a sense of the near-telepathic level at which this group operates. (Of course, when you have a working improvisatory group of virtuosos for two decades, that’s what happens.) If this is your first taste of Dave Liebman or DLG, I hope you like it and seek out more. The discography for both is immense, and there is a decent amount of YouTube footage of the last year of DLG’s performances alone. (For example, try to watch this and sit still…)

Two “New Listens” for Liebman’s work can be found here and here.

(PS — Try not to snicker too much at the new-but-not-quite-clever title for the video series, MTH-V. Short and to the point.)