Soprano saxophonist extraordinaire Dave Liebman continues one of the most eventful years in his rich and varied career with his large ensemble release, As Always available August 10 from Mama Records, a division of Summit Records, Inc. The Dave Liebman Big Band covers the full spectrum of Liebman’s writing with six of his original compositions arranged for jazz orchestra by some of the finest jazz players working today. The all-star ensemble, under the direction of Gunnar Mossblad, includes members of Liebman’s working band: guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino, and drummer Marko Marcinko, along with featured soloists reed player Charles Pillow, keyboardist Jim Ridl, and brass player Scott Reeves. It’s just one more milestone for Liebman in a year that’s been full of them.
The album kicks off with “A Bright Piece,” a lyrical tune taken at a medium fast tempo and arranged by Andrew Rathbun. Liebman’s off hand mastery of improvisation is in evidence throughout, in the way he varies his phrases and knits them together into a coherent solo that also leaves plenty of opportunity for interaction with the rhythm section. Few improvisers can match Liebman’s control of line and pacing. His mastery of the notoriously difficult soprano sax is especially impressive on the title track, heard in a colorful arrangement by Pete McGuinness. Liebman’s tone ranges from pure, singing notes to growls and ecstatic cries as he weaves around the orchestra in surprising ways. “Anubis” and “Philippe Under the Green Bridge” both show how seamlessly Liebman can work modern classical and world music influences into his music. Pillow’s oboe adds timbres rarely heard in jazz and his duet with Liebman on “Philippe Under the Green Bridge” is improvisation that is truly beyond category. Reeve’s harmonically rich setting of “New Breed” puts the band through its paces, featuring some complex and very tight playing from the saxophone section in particular. Throughout the album, Liebman’s command of his instrument and the entire vocabulary of jazz expression helps unify these pieces into a vision of artistic continuity and innovation.
The release of As Always is just one event in an extraordinary year of milestones, awards, and anniversaries that few jazz artists have enjoyed. Highlights include:
Recognition at Home and Abroad
o In January 2011, Liebman will receive a 2011 National Endowment of the Arts’ Jazz Masters Award. Liebman joins the ranks of previous jazz greats who have received this honor, including Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman, Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Betty Carter, and many others.
o In December 2009, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication presented Liebman with the Order of Arts and Letters medal.
o German jazz journalists and critics named the Dave Liebman Group’s Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazz Werkstatt) 2010 Album of the Year. A new distribution deal with the label should make this award-winning disc more widely available in the U.S. in fall 2010.
o The International Association of Jazz Schools (IAJS), which Liebman helped found in 1989 and for which he now serves as artistic director, celebrated its 20th anniversary at its annual meeting in The Hague in late June. Students and faculty from 45 schools in 24 countries around the world met in the city where the association got its start. Approximately 2,000 students, teachers and administrators from several dozen countries have taken part in international meetings held throughout the world since the inception of the IAJS.
o Liebman’s Saxophone Master Class at East Stroudsburg University celebrates its 25th anniversary in August 2011. Liebman has taught this week-long intensive workshop for students of all ages in Stroudsburg, PA, an hour and a half south of New York City, since 1987.
Touring and Recording
Liebman maintains an intensive performing and recording schedule. Highlights include:
o September 7 – 11 Five nights at the Blue Note with pianist Steve Kuhn and bassist Steve Swallow.
o Liebman will be featured soloist with Chamber Jazz Ensemble of the Manhattan School of Music on October 14 performing music commissioned and first premiered by Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporian, one of the most highly regarded new music ensembles in the world.
o A reunion tour with Quest, Liebman’s legendary 1980s quartet with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist Ron McClure, and drummer Billy Hart, in February 2011.
o Ten new CD releases including Compassion: Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano Play Coltrane on Ravi Coltrane’s RK label; a live recording by the reunited Quest; and a first-time collaboration with alto saxophone icon Lee Konitz.
o The complete back catalog of Liebman’s first quartet, Lookout Farm, and of Quest will be available on the Internet for download.
David Liebman’s career has spanned more than four decades, beginning in the early ’70s when he performed and recorded with drummer Elvin Jones (Live At The Lighthouse) and Miles Davis (On The Corner). Since then he has lead his own groups, including Lookout Farm, Quest, and The Dave Liebman Group, featuring musicians such as John Scofield, Richie Beirach, Billy Hart, Adam Nussbaum, Al Foster, John Abercrombie and Vic Juris. He is featured on nearly 350 recordings, of which he has been the leader or co-leader on 150. He has consistently placed among the top three in the Downbeat Critics Poll for Soprano Saxophone since 1973 and is considered one of the main exponents of this very specialized instrument. His repertoire is among the most eclectic of contemporary artists, ranging from standards to fusion to big band and chamber music inspired by 20th century classical music. In the education field, he is a renowned lecturer and author of several instructional DVDs and books, most notably: “Self Portrait of A Jazz Artist,” “A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Melody and Harmony,” and “Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound.”
The honors and recognition are welcome, of course, but Liebman certainly isn’t resting on his laurels. He continues to do what he’s always done best, make music that uplifts and inspires us while he passes his skill and wisdom on to a younger generation.