David Liebman

Mosaic Select: Dave Liebman & Richie Beirach

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The 12th volume in the Mosaic Select series offers a different view of its chosen artists than on previous issues. For starters, all of the recordings on these three CDs are previously unissued live performances. They are compiled from the years between 1976 and 1991, when Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach began recording together in an electric group called Lookout Farm (with Frank Tusa, Jeff Williams, and Todd Barkan), and recorded for the ECM label. They continued as a duo for the same label, and then for the A&M Horizon label and Artists House. Finally, they collaborated again in a group called Quest, with bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart. The music ranges from fusion (Liebman had been Miles Davis' saxophonist for his On the Corner and Get Up With It albums) to modal exploration á la Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. Given that these are live recordings, everything here is stretched out, sometimes to the breaking point, but that makes it no less compelling a listening experience. While jazz purists may find the Lookout Farm material to be the hardest to listen to, it is the most exciting in many respects. For starters, this band was playing in front of rock as well as jazz audiences, and their participation in the process is clear and spurs on greater flights of improvisational fancy -- give a listen to the "Mitsuku," or "A Night in Tunisia." In addition, there is the tightrope walk of discovery going on here. This is a band who is clearly deeply involved in trying to expand the boundaries of jazz without breaking them. The Lookout Farm material never leaves jazz's campground, but is actually electric jazz. The duo recordings that make up Disc Two are much more cerebral, but they contain complex and intricate emotional terrain as well. Here, dialogue is everything, and Liebman and Beirach are nothing if not consummate listeners in their extended improvisations. Finally, the Quest material is the work of a fully realized group. Beirach's interaction with Ron McClure is near symbiotic, and Hart's drumming contains within it the kind of balance between power and subtlety that is necessary for modal inquiry. The rich tonal palette and scalar terrain explored here is unlike most of what was happening in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Liebman's "The Hollow Men," in its extrapolations of time and harmonic landscape, is a particularly fine example. In sum, it will mostly be collectors who shell out the cash for this set, but that's too bad because here is an under-celebrated duo who mined their own elegant vein in jazz history and brought a different and thoroughly engaging light to shine on what they found there. -- Thom Jurek

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