Steuart Liebig & Tee-Tot Quartet

Always Outnumbered

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The Tee-Tot Quartet are one of Steuart Liebig's grooviest projects, along with the Mentones. In fact, the two bands are clearly connected, personnel-wise (drummer Joseph Berardi plays in both) and in spirit and style. In the Tee-Tot Quartet, Tony Atherton's alto sax and Bill Barrett's harmonica are replaced by the cornet of Dan Clucas and the Dobro of Scot Ray -- in that order: Clucas gets the melodic lines and occasional unison lines with Liebig's contrabass guitar, while Ray's Dobro adds the same kind of grit to the group's sound that Barrett brings to the Mentones. The music on Always Outnumbered ranges from groovy blues-based tracks to mock jazz tunes ("Sunshine Candy") and more free-form slow numbers with a distinct Mingus flavor ("Serenade," "Mercy Kitchen," and "Fearless," where Liebig's snakelike bass work gets to shine). If these pensive moments have their appeal, the album's strength resides in hot pieces like "07-04-00," "Chucktown," and "Barrelfoot Grind" -- tracks where the quartet locks in tight, balancing character playing with attitude and creative license (a phrase that could very well sum up Liebig's approach to composition, be it for groups like this or for contemporary chamber music ensembles). Some of Liebig's projects feature complex and difficult music (very rewarding too, mind you). Like the Mentones' output, this first opus by his Tee-Tot Quartet is based on rootsy beat-driven music that could very well appeal to fans of modern jazz and blues, who might widen their horizons in the process. For, accessible as it may be, this music still has enough bite to deserve a key spot in Liebig's expanding oeuvre.

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