Selflessness
Release Date: September 3, 2021
Label: Dot Time Records

Selflessness is the new tribute to John Coltrane from NEA Jazz Master and Grammy nominated saxophonist Dave Liebman showcasing nine newly-arranged and rethought Coltrane classics by Liebman and his forward-thinking working band, Expansions. Joining Liebman, who plays soprano saxophone exclusively on this recording, is alto saxophonist Matt Vashlishan, pianist Bobby Avey, drummer Alex Ritz, and bassist Tony Marino.

Dave Liebman has always declared that if he had to name one primary influence and inspiration, it would be John Coltrane. The first time he saw Coltrane at Birdland in February 1962, he was 15 years old. As he recounts in his autobiography, What It Is, that was the night he saw the light, though he didn’t realize it for years. “Once you see the light,” he explains, “you can never turn away from it, though you may try. I went to see Coltrane from then on, anytime I could.”

Selflessness is the latest in Liebman’s Coltrane-tribute catalogue which includes titles such as Homage To John ColtraneCompassion (with Joe Lovano), Joy (with the Dave Liebman Big Band), John Coltrane’s Meditations, and Lieb Plays the Blues á la Trane. He also has participated in various Coltrane tributes such as “Live Under the Sky”, a famous concert in Tokyo with Wayne Shorter in 1987. 

It’s beyond evident, as well, that Liebman has a unique and recognizable style, a strong musical personality that is in no way an imitation of Trane’s. That is clear right from the first number, 

Mr. Day.” Liebman is an NEA Jazz Master for good reason— his fluency, clarity and originality on soprano are mind-boggling. Coltrane recorded “Mr. Day” in September 1960 for Roulette Records and again for Atlantic Records in October 1960. When Roulette released theirs in the fall of 1961, it was called “One and Four.” 

The name “One and Four” referred to the bass ostinato, which hits on beats one and four—but that’s not the case in this arrangement by drummer Alex Ritz. As Ritz explains, in his version “The theme is entirely in a ‘Big 5’ or 10/4 — I wrote it in alternating bars of 6/4 and 4/4. The idea started by ‘extending’ the iconic bass figure of the song by a couple of beats, then creating a ‘play’ on the piano ostinato in this new meter, and finally adapting the melody to fit within those two repeated parts. The only deviation from this pattern is the walking bass figure in the turnaround, which is basically dotted quarter notes in the 6/4 bar and quarter notes in the 4/4 bar.” Vashlishan’s brilliant alto sax solo takes place over a swinging 4/4. The “Big 5” returns for Avey’s adventurous piano solo, over Ritz’s inventive drumming, and then for Liebman’s solo.

Compassion” creates a haunting mood, in Liebman’s arrangement, with Vashlishan on wind synthesizer and Avey on his Vintage Vibe—a modern electric piano that looks like a Wurlitzer but sounds more like a Fender Rhodes. The next track opens with a long and dramatic solo piano improvisation that draws upon and leads into “My Favorite Things.” It’s probably the most famous waltz in jazz, but here it’s in 4. 

Olé” was Coltrane’s arrangement of a folk song from Spain called “Venga Vallejo.” It was listed as a Coltrane composition because record companies used to be in the habit of crediting as many numbers as possible to the artist who they had under contract. That practice benefited both the artist and the label financially, whereas a “public domain folk song“ gained them nothing, and credits to composers not under contract actually cost them money. Similarly, Impulse credited the public domain “Spiritual” to Coltrane. Liebman’s introduction to “Olé” highlights the folkloric origins of the song through the use of his wooden flute and Ritz’s frame drum. But Avey’s keyboard introduces a guitar-like distortion effect into the proceedings. Vashlishan plays clarinet on this one.

The next track is Vashlishan’s contribution as an arranger. This original take on “Lazy Bird” offers a new chord progression, and a rhythm that is Cuban-esque but played in a free and open manner. This is followed by a poignant rendition of “Peace on Earth”, featuring Liebman and Vashlishan’s flute.

In Liebman’s arrangement of “One Up, One Down”, the theme is followed by an extended drum solo over the rhythmic “hits.” Then there’s a fiery duet of drums and soprano. Liebman notes that they were “attempting to capture the way Trane and Elvin would play duo somewhere in the set. These duos went beyond the pale in terms of energy, passion and technique, never encountered in jazz at that level.”

Coltrane had become interested in concepts such as “Selflessness” through his readings on Eastern religions. In Avey’s re-working, a somewhat funky and somewhat “broken” drum pattern comes in after the theme, adding electricity to the various solos.

The last track, “Dear Lord,” slows the pace down. It begins with Marino’s leisurely, meditative bowed bass, alone. Vashlishan enters with the melody on flute while Liebman improvises around him, supported by clouds of sound from Avey’s keyboard, Marino’s long bowed tones, and splashes of color from Ritz. It makes a fitting end to this beautiful tribute to the master, John Coltrane.

Earth
Release Date: February 7, 2020
Label: Whaling City Sound

Thematically, Earth is Dave Liebman’s plea for the planet.  The album makes strong statements about humankind, the Earth as a living entity, and our coalescence with that entity.  On this release, Liebman is accompanied by the young luminaries and jazz veterans who make up his newest ensemble, Expansions, formed in 2013.  The group includes Bobby Avey on piano, Matt Vashlishan on reeds, Alex Ritz on drums along with the perennial Tony Marino on bass. Liebman will be celebrating the release of Earth at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center on February 28 through March 1. 

Earth will be the culmination of Liebman’s decades-long elements series- the final album in the iconic artist’s career-spanning 4-album opus which seeks to interpret the four elements in a musical context.  “In the late 1990s,” recollects Liebman, “I embarked on a project to musically depict manifestations of the four natural elements. In 1997 I recorded Water with Pat MethenyBilly Hart and Cecil McBee; in 2006 I did Air with the late genius engineer, Walter Quintus; fast forward to 2016 for Fire featuring Kenny Werner, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland; finally, with my present group Expansions, I conclude the series with ‘Earth’.”  

The nearly five-hundred compositions that make up Liebman’s musical canon were mostly conceived with the meaning of the piece coming first, before the composer delved into the intricacies of songwriting.  The process for composing ‘‘Earth’ was no different. In this case, Liebman tasked himself with interpreting the dizzying infinitude of our planet into a musical medium. The composer had the idea to compose each track using a method that he refers to as interval selection.  Thusly, each track on this release was composed with a specific musical interval in mind. Liebman explains, “Each composition has a specific intervallic element. For example, “Concrete Jungle” features the intervals of fourths and fifths, suggesting a city landscape; while “Sahara” incorporates major and minor seconds representing the heat and sun of the desert… This recording centers around the atmosphere created when intervals are played expressively with a melodic contour.”

The release begins with the first track “Earth Theme”–  an ethereal soundscape is created by the keyboard and wind synthesizers and Liebman enters, conjuring a primordial energy with his uncompromising melodic invention.  Rich musicality and a passionate fervor are eschewed from Liebman’s horn from the very first track. Liebman notes that this track represents “the foundation of the planet, our home, and the universal root of all beings.”  The next track, “Sahara”, was inspired by the composer’s trip to the Western Sahara in Mauritania some years ago.  Liebman notes “The desert landscape is unique in its bleakness, but powerful in its consistency.”  The ensemble achieves the musical characterization of the Sahara and its bleak, vast solitude with Liebman’s stunning compositional tactics and a masterful performance by the ensemble.

Major and minor sixths cascade down like the spewing of rocks and lava in “Volcano/Avalanche” which represents the Earth expelling its contents from the gut of the planet.  The ensemble perform with a power and intensity only rivaled by that of the Earth.  Liebman’s solo on this composition feels to the listener like a release, apropos to the title of the track.  Alex Ritz is particularly explosive on the drums during this track, with Bobby Avey providing otherworldly improvisation and accompaniment using synthesized sound.  This track brilliantly depicts a theme of this album, a concordance of acoustic and electronic performance in depiction of a world where the organic and the technological must coexist.  Liebman writes “This recording celebrating different aspects of our planet relies heavily on colors emanating from various digital and sound source equipment used by the keyboard and wind synthesizer. For me on the soprano sax, I am the lone acoustic instrument juxtaposing the old and the new (with the drums in the same zone). Melody and harmony play a lesser role in this kind of music…texture rules.”

 

For 'Selflessness, The Music of John Coltrane'

 

GREG BRYANT
WBGO
NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman's new release, Selflessness, is a passionate reimagining of the John Coltrane songbook. Liebman and his Expansions ensemble have cracked the code to a concept seldom expressed in previous renderings of Coltrane's most burning mid-to-late-period compositions. Read this feature here.

 

ROB SHEPHERD
POSTGENRE
We are honored to sit down with Liebman to discuss various moments in his career thus far, from early jazz-rock fusion with Ten Wheel Drive in the late 1960s to his current Expansions quintet and a recent trio performance with Adam Rudolph and Tyshawn Sorey. Read more here.

 

WULF MÜELLER
WULF'S MUSIC + BLOG
"A fitting tribute to the main inspiration of Dave Liebman."  Read this review here.

PETER HUM
OTTAWA CITIZEN
"Selflessness finds Liebman, as he has throughout his career, repaying his debt to Coltrane. He and his band tackle nine Trane compositions, dressing them up in finely wrought arrangements that put a unique stamp on the material well-known to jazz fans."  Read this review here.

STEPHEN GRAHAM
MARLBANK
"Lieb's soloing on the straight horn after Avey when it blossoms (around 02:39) is exquisite and in such timbral and interpretative detail leaves a mark on the imagination." Read this review here.

JIM HYNES
GLIDE MAGAZINE
"Liebman and Expansions brilliantly pay tribute while invoking Coltrane’s spirit through varied instrumentation, inventive arrangements, and some well-placed surprises." Read this review here.

ADAM FEIBEL
JAZZ.FM91
On this latest recording, Liebman returns to playing exclusively the soprano sax, the instrument for which he became best known. He’s joined by alto player Matt Vashlishan, pianist Bobby Avey, drummer Alex Ritz and bassist Tony Marino. Read this announcement here.

 

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
The new release showcases nine newly-arranged and rethought John Coltrane classics and will drop one day before Liebman’s 75th birthday. Pre-order it here.

LEONID AUSKERN
JAZZ QUAD
Read the full review here.

EDITOR
NQ JAZZ
See 'Selflessness' featured in The Listening Guide here.

TROY DOSTERT
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Read the 4-star review here.

ALLEN MICHIE
THE ARTS FUSE
"At 75, Dave Liebman pays tribute to John Coltrane by still doing what Coltrane would surely have wanted him to do: to look within and find truths that are a wellspring of rewarding and challenging music for the rest of us." Read the full review here.

JOHN CHACONA
JOHN CHACONA
"'Selflessness' is vivid evidence that Liebman’s creative fires continue to burn bright." Read the full review here.

CHRIS SPECTOR
MIDWEST RECORD
"You might think you've been here before, but trust me, you haven't. Killer stuff throughout from above the top shelf." Read the full review here.

ADAM FEIBEL
JAZZFM
"This new tribute to the sax legend finds Liebman returning exclusively to the soprano sax backed by his working band Expansions. Together, they tackle nine reimagined and rearranged pieces with fluency, clarity and originality." Read the full review here.

PATRICK DALLONGEVILLE
PARIS-MOVE
Read the full review in French here.

JACK BOWERS
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Even though this is for the most part music from Coltrane's "later" period, it is well-designed and synchronous.." Read the full review here.

 
 
 
 

For 'Earth'

 

KEN DRYDEN
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Liebman’s demanding music always requires top- notch musicians and his band understood his vision and helped him bring this outstanding project to life." Full review here

 

BILL MILKOWSKI
DOWNBEAT
"Earlier in his life, any musical ambitions Liebman might have harbored were sidetracked by his ongoing struggles with polio, which he had contracted in 1949, six years before Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine virtually eradicated the disease. “I went to Bellevue for rehabilitation once a month, and they had me pulling sandbags with my leg and all this outdated stuff,” he recalled. “My life basically circulated around polio, because it was always, ‘When’s the next operation gonna be?’ ‘How long do I have to wear this brace?’ ‘What’s gonna happen next?"Read the full feature here. 

 

 
 

VICTOR L. SCHERMER
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Like free jazz, this interview arose spontaneously from an informal "how are you doin'" telephone conversation between saxophonist Dave Liebman and All About Jazz contributor Vic Schermer. Read the full interview  here. 

 

 

CHRIS M. SLAWECKI
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Dave Liebman's expansive Expansions: Earth is powerfully and literally spaced out." Read the full review  here. 

 

EDDIE MYER
JAZZ VIEWS

"The band are awesomely accomplished, and there’s a powerful musical intelligence throughout that leaves a lasting impression: this certainly sounds like nothing else currently on offer." Read the full review here. 

 

MICHAEL J. WEST
JAZZ TIMES
"By and large, the successful tracks are the short, improvised solo interludes. Marino’s minor seconds and unstable pitch on “Bass Interlude” intrigue rather than repel; “Percussion/Flute Interlude,” with Ritz on kanjira and Liebman on wooden recorder, beckons to some primal instinct; Avey’s piano interlude is graceful and sublime. If Earth is a slog, it’s not for lack of talents involved."Read the full review here. 

 

BARRY WITHERDEN
JAZZ JOURNAL
"Stylistically Earth encompasses almost every facet of Liebman’s music over a long career: free jazz, world music, contemporary classical, post-bop, rock, what-have-you. Sometimes they are embedded quite deeply but still help shape the finished product."Read the full review here. 

 

 

STEVE FEENEY
THE ARTS FUSE

"While both Liebman and Benjamin tap into their monumental forebears, I’d have to give the edge to Liebman in terms of innovative creative reach.  But Benjamin more than holds her own in how she gives re-vitalizing attention to some very important musical roots." Read the full review here. 

 

 

RICHARD KAMINS
STEP TEMPEST

 "This is music that connects you to the natural world in unexpected ways, asking one to pay closer attention to the majesty of what is all around you,"
 Read the full review here

 

J.HUNTER
NIPPERTOWN

"Admittedly, this music isn’t for everybody or for any time, but this portrait of a world deep in the grips of climate change will definitely unlock your mind after a tRump press conference or an evening of binge-watching “Tiger King.” Read the full review here

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY

 "This planet never sounded better." Read the full review here

 

MIKE JURKOVIC
ALL ABOUT JAZZ

"Having established himself long ago as a player and thinker of studied consideration, Liebman, always in true service to the music—now, then, and in the future—pulls no punches, presenting his Earth as our Earth: a common home in danger, but a danger we can overcome if we let ourselves be heard." Read the full review here

 

J.D. CCONSIDINE
DOWNBEAT
"Here, Liebman takes the opposite approach to expressing the natural wonders of the world, emphasizing the textural possibilities of digital and electronic sound over the traditional sonorities of wind and strings. “
Read the full review here

PHIL FREEMAN
THE WIRE

"Earth features his working band Expansions and has a strong electro-fusion sound sometimes; his soprano is heard amid oozing, burbling synths that occasionally become surprisingly noisy and aggressive. On other tracks, though the music has somehow florid yet meditative feeling, verging on chamber jazz." Read the full review here

CHARLES WARING
RECORD COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
Dave Liebman Earth (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Read the full review here

JIM HYNES
GLIDE MAGAZINE
"This is masterful imaginative music, perhaps even a side of Liebman you haven’t heard. Take it all in and get lost. The music will evoke incredible imagery."
Read the full review here

STUART NICHOLSON
JAZZWISE
"Dave Liebman upturns expectations with a well-conceived and thoughtfully executed album that completes a quartet of titles programmatically themed on the four elements of nature – earth, air, fire and water.” Read the full review here

FILIPE FREITAS
JAZZ TRAIL
"Not all the parts of Earth are at the same level, but this rich sensory experience is keen to captivate enthusiasts of jazz fusion and futuristic post-bop alike." Review here

ROB SHEPHERD
NEXTBOP
"Earth feels like Expansion’s most fully realized work to date." Full review here

EUGENE HOLLEY JR
HOT HOUSE
"The release of Earth coincides with Dave’s move back to the city, and is a reminder of his time in the country. “These four elements—fire, air, water and earth—are a picture of my reflections on my Stroudsburg years,” he says. “We moved back to New York because we had our time out there. We brought up our daughter, and we were able to make a scene there. And not to be morbid, but if I began in New York, I’m going to end in New York.”
Read the cover story here

 
 

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