Friday, October 8, 2010

Dancing Through The Discs (Part 1)

You may have noticed how infrequently I have been posting lately (after my August boast to catch up on the back-log of CDs on my desk) but a new job and family responsibilities have eaten into my writing time.  Listening time has actually increased (90 minutes on the road 2 mornings a week plus plenty of time in my home office) but the time to translate my thoughts into sentences (and coherent ones, at that) has decreased (go figure).

Instead, here's a short look at several recordings that caught my ear and that are worth your time.

Saxophonist Eli Degibri (tenor and soprano) has assembled his "dream" band for his second recording on the Anzic label. "Israeli Song" finds him in the company of pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster.  The quartet spent a day in December 2009 at Sear Sound in New York City and it was time well spent.  First thing one notices is just how much Foster brings to the program.  His escapades around the drum kit on the opening cut, Mehldau's "Unrequited", is not only exciting but masterful. For the saxophonist's "Judy The Dog", his splashing cymbals propel the soloists forward with urgency.  Add Carter's melodic yet supportive bass work and the piece is irresistible. There are several duo tracks on the recording, including a lovely tenor/ acoustic bass reading of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Carter's chordal work is quite attractive) and a powerful tenor/drums rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop."  The title tune pairs Mehldau's expressive piano with the Degibri's melodic tenor -  the influence of classical music on both players as well as their love for harmonies makes the piece stand out. For more information, go to

Colorado Saxophone Quartet / Pagan, Michael - Michael Pagán: 12 Preludes And Fugues CD Cover Art
Michael Pagan is best known as a jazz pianist, an educator and is now the Director of Marketing and Communications at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. His latest recording, "12 Preludes and Fugues" (Tapestry Records), is a rich blend of classical and jazz influences. Performed by the Colorado Saxophone Quartet, an ensemble known for its extensive forays into traditional classical repertoire, ragtime, and the works of modern jazz composers, this CD is lovely, lively, melodic and filled with variety.  Certain pieces "swing" in the manner of an elegant work by Ellington while others have harmonies and rhythms akin to those of the World Saxophone Quartet.  One can also hear the classical influences of Bach, Debussy, Satie and others.  Forget the influences - it's easy to get lost in the full tones of the multiple reeds and in the melodies that unfold gracefully like large flocks of birds moving through the autumn sky.  As one who enjoys Bach's solo cello suites and Beethoven's string quartets, this is music one can return to time and again to discover nuances as well as melodic and/or harmonic connections.  For more information, go to

Liebman, David - Live: As Always CD Cover Art
Soprano saxophonist Dave Liebman is in the midst of a long and varied career as a musician, composer, producer, and educator. In these economically challenging times, he also finds time to record with a big band and even is doing several live gigs as well. As opposed to many other modern large ensembles, Liebman supplies the original material but farms out the arrangement and is also not the conductor.  His new recording in front of this 18-piece band, "As Always" (MAMA Records), is made up of 6 tracks, 4 recorded at the University of Colorado/Denver in October of 2005, the remainder at the University of Toldeo, Ohio in April 2007.  Conductor Gunnar Mossblad (who is a member of the reed section) arranged 1 tracks, trombonist Scott Reeves supplied 2 and 3 came from commissions outside of the band.  Liebman solos on each tracks - his soprano work is so impressive, with a tone that is often singing, sometimes keening, rising over the band or riding along with them.  The music is filled with surprising turns such as Liebman's wooden flute fluttering over the brass section on "Anubis" followed by a melody that features the oboe of Charles Pillow in duet with the bass clarinet of Chris Karlic.  "Phillippe Under the Green Bridge" is a rolling ballad with a long soprano solo supported by the trombone section, then all the brass, all atop Marko Macinko's splendid drum work. The recording closes with the funky, hard-driving, "Turn It Around", with Liebman reading the melody with guitarist Vic Juris.  The guitarist gets the first spotlight, riffing over the pulsing synthesizer of Jim Ridl and Macinko's drum barrage. The leader pushes the rhythm section even harder and they respond in kind.
"As Always" is an hour well-spent with Dave Liebman and his Big Band.  There are no false notes, no lazy arrangements, no "treading water" beneath the soloist - instead, the music is exciting, challenging yet approachable, with Liebman playing inspired, modern, music.  To find out more about this CD, go to Jason Crane interviewed Dave Liebman for the 200th episode of "The Jazz Session" and it's well worth listening to - go to

Liebman is listed as the co-producer (and also appears on 4 of the 8 tracks) on "A New Face" (jayDell Records), the debut recording from pianist/composer Bobby Avey. The 25-year old first worked with his co-producer on the 2006 "Vienna Dialogues" but went back to finish school.  Well, he may be "A New Face" but he's a mature composer, creating aural landscapes that showcase his fine, two-handed, piano style and intelligent arrangements.  His rhythm section - Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Jordan Pearlson (drums) - is an equal partner in the music, with the majority of the pieces built upon strong piano lines and melodies that use the bass and drums as counterpoint as well as support.  "Late November" opens with a circular piano line (played unaccompanied) until Pearlson announces his entrance in dramatic fashion.  The piece rises out of Avey's active left hand, the trance-like figures he plays even as his right hand shares the melody with the bassist or solos over the propulsive drums. The rhythmic fire that introduces "Delusion" only lets up for a mid-song reverie but the majority of the song races forward with dispatch (even the bass solo never lets up.) The cuts that feature Liebman include the mysterious "In Retreat" (Pearlson's percussion is stellar - even sounds as if he utilizes a tambourine) which rises in intensity throughout the soprano sax solo and then moves quietly to its close. He and Avey play without the rhythm section on the Satie-like "Influence", a stunning ballad that starts slowly, also rising in intensity into the middle, with piano notes raining down on Liebman as he cuts through them with piercing phrases.  The final section of the song reverts to the slow pace of the opening - here the musicians seem to be caressing the original melody, letting it down easily to the close.
Bobby Avey may remind some of Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran, pianists who infuse their melodies with rhythmic drive and many harmonic possibilities (John Escreet is another young musician cut from that same broad cloth.)  This music has great drive, filled with surprising turns, fine solos, and savvy interplay.  Go find this CD, live with the music for a while, and it will give you many rewards.  For more information, go to

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