Steuart Liebig / Minim

Steuart Liebig: Quicksilver

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AllMusic Review by

There is something slightly uncomfortable about Quicksilver and it has to do with the fact that it basically consists of contemporary chamber music trying to break out of the box but not quite making it. A very talented improviser and jazzman with a ferocious electric bass playing, Steuart Liebig attempts to renovate the chamber-quartet format. The quartet consists of Ellen Burr on flutes, Jeff Gauthier on (electric) violin, Jeanette Kangas on percussion, and Liebig on electric contrabass guitars. If Gauthier's playing remains mostly anchored into the concert violin tradition, despite the amplification, Liebig's is strongly influenced by jazz and rock techniques. Sound-wise, the result is a four-legged beast attempting to walk straight while one leg is constantly going sideways. The other players, all very talented (Burr's phrasing is a delight), don't share the wildness and "out" quality of Liebig's approach. And this is also reflected in the bassist's writing. The 52-minute, 23-part suite "Mosaic" is a hodgepodge of conventional contemporary quartet motives and avant-jazz\rock licks. Liebig is good at developing melodic and harmonic ideas within short durations and the work as a whole displays good cohesion, elegance and flair, but it rests between two chairs. It makes for a challenging yet pleasant listen, but one comes out of it with the feeling that Liebig could have gone much further (Tim Brady, for instance, has been more radical -- and artistically successful -- at integrating the electric guitar to chamber music contexts). "Chrysanthemum" sounds even more awkward and, given the 80-minute duration of the album, could have been left out altogether. The last piece, "A Single Rosehip Bursts in Praise" is a different story. Here, Liebig and his group have shaken off much more of the contemporary ethos. Kangas' percussion work (mostly choked cymbals) is insistent and odd; Burr breaks off of her poise to blow a compelling Kirk-esque solo; and at last Liebig finds a balance between the seriousness of the quartet setting (four musicians sitting down in a circle) and the raucous edge his writing was aspiring to all along.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Mosiac, 23 miniatures after haiku, for avant-garde ensemble
1 2:27
2 3:17
3 1:56
4 2:16
5 1:41
6 2:55
7 1:48
8 2:22
9 2:10
10 1:57
11 2:42
12 3:52
13 2:17
14 3:03
15 2:01
16 2:01
17 1:54
18 2:13
19 1:54
20 1:01
21 1:38
22 1:17
23 2:46
24 15:42
25 12:23
blue highlight denotes track pick