David Liebman

Liebman Plays Puccini: A Walk in the Clouds

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Saxophonist David Liebman extends his laudable technical faculties with this very impressive venture into the third stream as he redirects his jazz vernacular toward the famed arias of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). On this 2001 release, Liebman garners strong assistance from famed alto saxophonist Phil Woods, drummer Matt Wilson, and operatic vocalist Lenora Zenzalai Helm, along with a woodwind section, strings, and his present working unit. Historically, projects such as these have been deeply scrutinized by both jazz and classical purists. Meanwhile, Liebman situates himself in a position where he captures the essence of operatic dramatizations alongside multi-hued portraitures consisting of duets, cleverly articulated exchanges with Ms. Zenzalai, and the interweaving of jazz-based passages. Essentially, the artist reinvents motifs and melodies from Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and other Puccini works into forums for either resonant bop and swing vamps or stirring conceptualizations based upon the composer's sweet-tempered melodies. Whereas Woods and Liebman kick up a storm on "Tre Sbirri" (Three Agents), while "Un Bel Di, Vedremo" (One Fine Day, He'll Come) features softly stated, chamberesque woodwinds and Liebman's seemingly meditative and contrapuntal performances on soprano sax. Otherwise, the woodwind section and cellist Nancy Hambleton-Torrente provide the semi-austere classicism, yet part of the marvel here resides within Liebman's eloquent implementations and clear-sighted approach to the material at hand. Hence, it all seems so unaffected. Recommended.

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