Street 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 Metheny, Billy 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.”
More about the artist:
NEA Jazz Master (2011) David Liebman’s career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the early 1970s as the saxophone/flautist in both the Elvin Jones and Miles Davis Groups, continuing as a bandleader since. He has played on over five hundred recordings with nearly two hundred under his leadership and co-leadership. In jazz education he is a renowned lecturer and author of several milestone books: Self Portrait Of A Jazz Artist, A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony And Melody, Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound (translated into multiple languages), in addition to teaching DVDs, journalistic contributions to periodicals and published chamber music. Lieb‘s autobiography What It Is-The Life Of A Jazz Artist (Scarecrow Press) is a fascinating look into Lieb’s career. His bands over the years have included noted musicians such as John Scofield, Richie Beirach, Bob Moses, Billy Hart and others. The current group Expansions features some of the best of the younger generation. Lieb is the Founder and Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) existing since 1989, which is a worldwide network of schools from nearly 40 countries. Liebman’s awards, besides the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor include the Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Legends of Jazz (2013); the Order of Arts and Letters (France 2009); Jazz Journalist’s award for Soprano Saxophone (2007); GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Solo (1998); and Honorary Doctorate from the Sibelius Academy (Finland-1997). He is currently teaching at the Manhattan School of Music, New York University, Princeton University and is a guest lecturer at Berklee College of Music. Dave has consistently placed in the top positions for Soprano Saxophone in the Downbeat, Jazz Times and JazzEd polls since 1973.
"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.
MICHAEL J. WEST
"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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"Earth feels like Expansion’s most fully realized work to date." Full review here.
EUGENE HOLLEY JR
"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.
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.