Dave Liebman: Drum Ode (ECM 1046)

 

Dave Liebman
Drum Ode

Dave Liebman soprano and tenor saxophones, alto flute
Richard Beirach electric piano
Gene Perla basses
John Abercrombie guitars
Jeff Williams drums
Bob Moses drums
Patato Valdez congas
Steven Satten percussion
Barry Altschul percussion
Badal Roy tablas
Collin Walcott tablas
Ray Armando bongos
Eleana Steinberg vocal
Recorded May 1974, Record Plant, New York
Engineer: Jay Messina
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“Drums and drummers. For me, they’ve been the moving force and inspiration, a reason to live, and celebrate life through playing music. Thanks to the men who play the drums. This music is dedicated to you.”
–Dave Liebman

It was the summer of 1997. I was fresh out of high school and settling into my new life at Goddard College (of Phish fame) in Plainfield, Vermont. The transition was sudden, but I was fortunate enough to have been placed in the music dorm, where dwelled lovers of all things audible. Late one night, during an emotionally exhausting orientation week, I was awoken by a sound coming from downstairs. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I descended to the common room to find my dorm mates deep in the throes of an impromptu drum circle. Congas, djembes, pots, tabletops, human bodies: everything was fair game. With nothing but a tin cup and a spoon at my disposal, I joined in with cathartic joy. I don’t think any of us remember how long the session went on after that (I’m not sure we even slept). Sadly, the school itself wasn’t what I had expected. After a long conversation with the group, I decided to return home and incubate for a year. Although this taxing decision eventually put me on a straighter academic path, I do think fondly of the profoundly attuned synergy we of the musical persuasion had forged in those dense seven days surrounded by the region’s denser foliage. Since coming across Dave Liebman’s seminal Drum Ode in reissued form, I have rediscovered something of that physical feeling of surrender one so rarely gets from a laser scanning a concealed silver disc.

Piggybacking on this success of Lookout Farm, Liebman surrounds himself with likeminded company. The rhythmic core of the 1973 joint remains intact, with a minus here and some additions there. The dedicatory introduction of “Goli Dance,” quoted above, leaves no mystery as to the album’s philosophical goals. “Loft Dance” comes closest to reenacting my anecdotal experience, and counts among its actors an animated Richard Beirach on electric piano, a lively John Abercrombie on guitar, and Liebman himself laying down some infectious rhythms of his own. The playing is baked to a crisp, and scathingly uplifting. Gene Perla deploys a heavy anchor, offset by the whimsy of whistles, all of which tethers the soloing to its immediate territory. “Oasis” is the odd one out for its vocal cameo, courtesy of Eleana Steinberg. A beautifully soulful sax solo is rendered all the more so for the songstress’s curious presence, her uneven edges and off-key honesty a sobering foil to the otherwise instrumental sound. Liebman lights a veritable box of matches in “The Call,” a revelatory pyramid with Bob Moses and Jeff Williams at its bottom corners. Its martial snares and echoing sax are the heart and soul of the album, hands down. “Your Lady” (an oft-neglected page from the Coltrane songbook) darkens the mood with a rain-drenched bass and nocturnal soprano sax. “The Iguana’s Ritual” continues in the same vein, save for the noticeable additions of electric guitar and the soothing grace of Collin Walcott’s tabla. Here, atmosphere becomes the primary melody. A trebly bass then ushers in a raunchier solo from Abercrombie and a kinetic finish from Liebman. A fluttering of guitar harmonics begins the end in “Satya Dhwani (True Sound).” Flute and tabla expand the sound further, carrying us out on an enigmatic path to stillness.

The contrast in covers between the original vinyl and the CD could hardly be greater. The latter’s block list of names, while typographically pleasing, obscures the vibrant colors that said roster produces. One look at the former, however, reveals all in a single perusal: a brilliant sun, cradled in the arid landscape of its own desires, has found a voice where shadows intersect, and waits to share it with any in search of oasis.


Original cover

Circle: Paris Concert (ECM 1018/19)

Circle
Paris Concert

Anthony Braxton reeds, percussion
Chick Corea piano
Dave Holland bass, cello
Barry Altschul percussion
Recorded February 21, 1971 at the Maison de l’O.R.T.F, Paris
Engineer: Jean Delron
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The short-lived Chick Corea outfit outdoes itself in this 1971 live recording. A delicate piano intro primes us for an extended rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertitti” to start. Once Braxton throws himself on top of incoming bass and drums, however, what began as contemplative awakening quickly turns into a spastic jaunt into more upbeat territory. The gnarled unity of the quartet paints in bold strokes, all the while flirting with total breakdown. Braxton’s perpetual motion and uncompromising tone make a superb tune out of a great one. “Song For The Newborn” gives Holland a moment in the spotlight. Swaddled in all the innocence of its title and bound by a mature sense of structure, this is an engaging interlude to the Braxton/Corea duet that follows. Corea’s frenetic style in the latter works its way through a host of rhythmic options before settling into a row of block chords. Braxton’s heady phrasing tears a page from the book of Coltrane, while his solitary diversions crackle with the urgency of a broken mirror, as yet unframed by the bastion of mundanity. Altschul delights in “Lookout Farm,” in which he dives headfirst into his percussive arsenal. The tinkling of icicles and cowbells in an open field give way to an extended solo, thus providing ample segue into “73 506 Kelvin 8,” a beautifully convoluted organism that could only come from the mind of Braxton. Below its cacophonous surface pulsates a vast network of instrumental veins, through which flows the passionate immediacy that is Circle’s lifeblood, and from which Holland’s rapture sings with detail and imagination. “Toy Room ­ Q&A” (Holland) boasts Corea in notably fine form, leaving plenty of elbowroom for Braxton to flex his reeds. The freer aesthetic crashes in on itself by the end, leaving us craving a familiar foothold. This, we get in the standard “No Greater Love,” capping things off with notable turns from all.

Corea busts out with some of his most captivating fingerwork, proving himself finely attuned to the mechanisms of his caravan at every rest stop along the way; Braxton’s “Pharaonic” sound titillates the ear; and one could hardly ask for a tighter rhythm section at one’s side. As a collective unit, Circle doesn’t so much make music out of as inhabit its raw melodic materials. This recording is a lasting testament to a vibrant formative period for ECM. The audience’s enthusiastic reactions give the listener the feeling of being present in the making of history.

Paul Bley: Ballads (ECM 1010)

1010

Paul Bley
Ballads

Paul Bley piano
Gary Peacock bass
Mark Levinson bass
Barry Altschul drums
Recording engineered by Tommy Nola, Nola Studios, NYC
Recorded 28 July 1967 (Side 1) and 31 March 1967 (Side 2)
Mixing engineer: David Baker
Produced by Paul Bley
Executive production by Manfred Eicher/ECM
Release date: 1971

As an early ECM release, this all-Annette Peacock set already demonstrated the crystal clear recording and wide open spaces for which the label would come to be so well known. Throughout the long opener, ironically titled “Ending,” pianist Paul Bley handles most of the thematic legwork, while bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Barry Altschul skitter across his ivory surface like ice skaters so skilled they can stumble on cue. The title is multifarious. It’s the ending of a turn; the ending not of a life, but of the fallacy of its fulfillment; an ending of circumstance; an ending of watersheds; an ending of all the things in this world that buy us freedom, only to spit it back in our face. Altschul steals the show, soloing in slow-moving surroundings. The lagging pace lends further prominence to his playing, underscoring far more than mere virtuosity. As the piece goes on, it trickles like water, perhaps cluing us in on the title’s central meaning: that is, the music’s own loss of energy and creative source, a broken dam letting out its final drops. This is restrained music-making by a trio we know can swing with the best of them. Next is “Circles,” which seems to sweep up the mess of a long-waged battle, all the while showing an immense amount of fortitude in dealing with the prospect of an unclear future. Lastly, “So Hard It Hurts” gives a vivid sense of Annette Peacock’s compositional audacity and her unique way of turning gentility into pain, and vice versa. This time, Altschul is less cymbal-oriented and more focused on hitting the skins, providing ample room for bassist Mark Levinson’s own inspired finger work.

A delicate ridge rises between the musicians like a pyramid in every song, casting a moving triangular shadow as the sun marks its passage through time. The adlibbing is insightful and melodically well-aged. There is a crunchiness to this music, like biting into a confection filled with ever-changing flavors.

In 2019, this album was at last given the new life it needed through an ECM Touchstones reissue.

Dave Holland Quartet: Conference Of The Birds (ECM 1027)

Dave Holland Quartet
Conference Of The Birds

Dave Holland bass
Sam Rivers reeds, flute
Anthony Braxton reeds, flute
Barry Altschul percussion, marimba
Recorded November 30, 1972 at Allegro Studio, New York City
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As someone who began with ECM New Series releases long before easing into the world of ECM proper, my initial explorations of the latter led me to decidedly contemporary avenues of jazz and to a particular fondness for the many Norwegian projects represented by the label. Only in recent years have I begun to pan for gold in the massive back catalog that was produced before I was born, and among the many fine nuggets to emerge from the sediment is this most splendid effort.

Phenomenal wind work from Braxton and Rivers makes this a decadent studio treat, grinding out equally captivating solos, whether over a tight rhythm section or in the throes of a looser backdrop. Though easily billed as a “free jazz” album, Conference Of The Birds remains a fine testament to a relatively accessible strand of the form. A child of the post-bop generation, Holland takes the back seat for the most part and lets his reedmen take center stage. Whimsical elements such as the unexpected coach’s whistle in “Q & A” comingle with the solid relay races of “Four Winds” and “See-Saw.” The title track provides the most delicate textures on the album with its effortless flourishes and gorgeous bass intro, acting as a fragrant palate-cleanser before launching us into the ecstatic free-for-all that is “Interception.” Each cut has its own distinct flavor, lending a vibrant anticipation to every break.

Conference Of The Birds is special to me for at least three reasons: (1) It evokes an important period of musical and political transition that I will never experience directly. Moods are wrought in iron and blown glass, so that no matter how many times the structure is destroyed, one can always melt the pieces down again into something new. This was a time in which the entire world was either on its knees or throwing off the shackles of normalcy in favor of unrestricted forms of expression. This duplicitous spirit of oppression and liberation is embodied perfectly in the sounds. (2) One can trace a dark and lasting thread from Holland’s early work to the present. This set in particular allows us to see his foundational strength, the whimsical order for which he has become so well known. (3) This album is, for me at least, one example of what makes jazz so uplifting: a spirit of shared knowledge, a hermetic seal ruptured for the sake of communal awareness, and the letting go of one’s own inhibitions amid an unforgiving social order.

Offer it your hand, and you may be surprised where it leads.