Liebman/Murley Quartet ‘Live at U of T’ (Private Press) 4/5

Saxophonist Dave Liebman, at the age of seventy-one, can certainly be considered a jazz veteran. His initial interest in jazz was sparked by seeing saxophonist John Coltrane live in New York jazz clubs. Along the way, Liebman studied with fellow saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Lennie Tristano. Later, he worked in the group of drummer Elvin Jones who, himself, had worked extensively with Coltrane. The period from 1970-1974 saw Liebman touring and recording with trumpeter Miles Davis. At around the same time, the saxophonist was beginning to forge an independent career path working on his own projects forming an enduring partnership with the pianist Richie Beirach and recording for the famed ECM record label. Over the years Liebman has also garnered plaudits as an accomplished jazz educator at universities and in clinic settings. His biography ‘What it is: The Life of a Jazz Artist’ was published in 2012 and was well received by the jazz critics and fans alike.

This latest release teams the saxophonist with fellow reed-man Mike Murley (tenor and soprano saxophones) Jim Vivian (bass) and Terry Clarke (drums). The nine tracks on the album were recorded during January 2017 and seven of the pieces are compositions by band members, the exceptions being Joe Lovano’s ‘Blackwell’s Message’ and ‘And the Angels Sing’ a song written by Ziggy Elman and Johnny Mercer and which was a number one hit for Benny Goodman in 1939.

It is clear from the opening piece ‘Split or Whole’ by bassist Vivian, that the saxophonists revel in a rapport built up over a decade of working together. This is their second release. My guess is that we hear Liebman on soprano and Murley on tenor in this powerful outing. Next we have ‘YBSN’ written by Murley and sounding like a near relation of the old standard ‘You’d be So Nice to Come Home too’. The Tristano influence is clear here with the saxophonists bringing to mind the saxophone team of Warn Marsh and Pete Christlieb. ‘Off A Bird’ has the drummer opening this Liebman composition. Again, a soprano and tenor frontline and a rather more serpentine theme statement, the whole performance swinging along very satisfyingly. ‘Small One’ evidences a change of pace and is certainly a mellow melody with both saxophonists playing soprano. ‘Open Spaces’ is different again with Liebman on flute, initially accompanied by bass and drums, before the two tenor saxophones take centre stage. Later, we are treated to another exemplary bass solo. ‘Nebula’ opens with an extended feature for the bassist and develops slowly into a more impressionistic piece, with the leaders on tenor saxes once again. ‘And the Angels Sing’ is a delight to hear, swinging along at a great rate. Everyone seems to be having fun on this one. ‘Missing Persons’ has the leaders alone together back on soprano saxophones. This is a very considered piece and is a great contrast to the previous piece.

The aforementioned Joe Lovano piece brings the album to a close and commences with a drum feature as one would expect as the dedicatee was an eminent percussionist. The soprano and tenor front line combination returns for this powerful performance. I always miss the addition of a guitar or keyboard in line-ups such as this, but here this absence allows the musicians far more flexibility in their approach. Here we have a mixture for freedom and restraint. Restraint isn’t a word I would normally associate with Leibman. The thing to say here is that the music is always approachable and yet challenging. This is a winning combination. Murley is a former pupil of Leibman and clearly displays what he has learnt from the older master of the instrument. The recorded sound from this live performance is excellent. A fantastic album of freewheeling contemporary jazz and well worth a listen.

Alan Musson