Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Media

Dave Liebman
Live at Smalls
Cellar Music Group CMSLF004

Dave Liebman’s career dates back over a half century with stints playing alongside legends ranging from Miles Davis to Elvin Jones. Liebman has been recording since he was 16 years old and has performed in almost every conceivable setting. Live at Smalls, a freely improvised set recorded live at Smalls Jazz Club, finds the NEA Jazz Master accompanied by a group of young, adventurous improvisers; trumpeter Peter Evans joins Liebman on the frontline, supported by a rhythm section comprised of pianist Leo Genovese, bassist John Hébert, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Part of the Smalls LIVE Living Masters Series, this recording from the renowned West Village nightclub showcases the protean virtuosity of an elder statesman in the company of burgeoning next generation masters.

Recorded in January 2022, Live at Smalls marks the beginning of a new phase in Liebman’s career. Having appeared on over 500 recordings, Liebman stated he intends to spend the next phase of his artistic life playing free, an aspect that has been documented regularly throughout his career. Other than his work with the long-running collaborative quartet Quest (with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist Ron McClure, and drummer Billy Hart), Liebman’s most dedicated period spent freely improvising was during the loft jazz era. From 1968-69 Liebman shared a downtown loft with Dave Holland and Chick Corea, where they would frequently play for hours, without predetermined tunes, keys, or tempos to guide them.

Live at Smalls harkens back to those halcyon days. For this date, Liebman called upon musicians he has played with separately, but never all together. Evans, a brass virtuoso well known in creative music circles for his technique, makes a perfect foil for Liebman, spurring on the master at every turn. Genovese, whose eclectic recording credits range from Wayne Shorter to The Mars Volta, brings a distinctive touch to the proceedings. Hébert can be heard on Liebman’s prior release, Trust and Honesty (Newvelle), while Sorey’s compositional acumen lends his powerhouse drumming a highly structured sensibility. Transitioning seamlessly between modes, these musicians perform together with an intuitive logic.

The album is divided into three sections: “The Beginning,” “The Middle,” and “The End.” With its vast dynamic range, the continuous 75-minute set modulates from volatile cacophony to pointillist introspection, but there are also times when the group swings together in full unfettered flight. It is during these rhapsodic episodes that Liebman and Evans’ uncanny rapport comes to the fore, with Genovese’s dazzling runs ably supported by Sorey’s frenetic salvos, while Hébert provides contrast during the set’s more impressionistic phases. Between surprisingly tight unison lines and a driving rhythmic pulse, the quintet sounds well-rehearsed, even though they were in fact, not. Spontaneously intertwined cadences, near-telepathic interplay, and exploratory solos dominate the first half of the program, before a contemplative interlude culminates in an animated finale.

Although the album’s uncharted detours may be demanding for casual listeners familiar only with Liebman’s mainstream credentials, it is certainly not devoid of accessible, swinging moments, despite its expansive sensibility. The trust and respect these artists have in each other is palpable in the enthusiasm they bring to this performance, making it one of the more memorable of its kind. More than just a confirmation of Liebman’s standing as a leader in creative improvised music, Live at Smalls is a salient document that captures the timelessness of spontaneous collaborative creation amongst disparate generations of musicians.
–Troy Collins


Joe McPhee + Tomeka Reid
Let Our Rejoicing Arise
Corbett vs. Dempsey CvDLP004

Tomeka Reid + Fred Lonberg-Holm
Eight Pieces for Two Cellos
Corbett vs. Dempsey CvDLP008

It used to be that you could count the number of cellists impacting jazz on your fingers; maybe a few toes if you include Oscar Pettiford, Ron Carter, and other bassists who occasionally – and memorably – played the smaller violin. While there is an increasing number of noteworthy players on the scene, none is better positioned to permanently place the cello in the front line of not only jazz, but a broader scope of music, than Tomeka Reid. Certainly, a recently awarded MacArthur Fellowship is a singular door-opening asset in this regard, but it is secondary to the artistry amply documented on disc, these two duo recordings adding to the evidence.

Reid’s album with fellow Chicago-based cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is divided between their own compositions and older works by Carter, Fred Katz, and others. The latter are thoroughly delightful, exuding verve and spirit. However, pieces like Katz’s “Pluck it” and Harry Babasin’s “Monti-Cello” echo the narrative of the cello being something of a novelty in mainstream jazz, capable of delivering frothy, lightly swinging pieces, and not much more. These pieces do serve the album well; like slivers of ginger, they clear the palette for the next course. The original contributions provide a strong contrast, with both Reid’s “Alla Mingus for La Bang” and Lonberg-Holm’s “Fragile” showcasing the cello’s ability to dredge the soul and summon a tear to the eye. It is the back and forth between these two sets of works that gives the album its impressive pace and, ultimately, its depth. The most astounding thing about Eight Pieces for Two Cellos, however, is that it took almost a decade to come to market. This would have been one of the better albums of 2013, and it will be likely considered as such at year’s end.

Reid’s duet with Joe McPhee is heavy from start to finish. Commemorating Juneteenth, prefaced by McPhee’s declamatory rendering of two original texts addressing the ever-changing sameness, he and Reid dig deep, sifting through textures and phrases with an almost forensic delicacy. The breathy quality of McPhee’s tenor acts as something of a binder, sticking to Reid’s bowed and plucked timbres, as well as filling the spaces as she developed materials. When they finally land on “Lift Every Voice,” it is like a watery camera shot snapping into sharp focus, with all the shapes they previously sketched becoming a compelling picture. Arguably, the music would have been better served had it been issued on CD, precluding the disruption inherent in turning over the disc. It is a measure of the strength of the album’s message that the limitations of the medium proved to be of little consequence.
–Bill Shoemaker


Tyler Mitchell Octet + Marshall Allen
Sun Ra’s Journey
Cellar Music Group/The SmallsLIVE Foundation CMSLF001

In addition to Tyler Mitchell’s long-standing membership in the Sun Ra Arkestra, he has an extensive experience working with hard bop legends like Art Taylor and Jackie McLean. In a brilliant stroke, Tyler brought in Marshall Allen to work with the bassist’s octet of up and comers. In a well-paced program of Ra favorites like “Velvet” and “Fate in a Pleasant Mood,” chestnuts like Monk’s “Skippy” and Bill Lee’s “Eddie Harris,” and complementary, ear-grabbing originals by the leader, the inspiring Allen, and alto saxophonist Nicolette Manzini, Mitchell has constructed a winning album that rewards repeated plays.

By focusing on the joyful swing of Ra’s early vehicles, Mitchell gives his crew plenty of opportunities to shine. Giveton Gelin has the necessary lead trumpet skill set to launch the arrangements spacewards, as well as navigate the post-Brownie soundscape in his solos without sounding derivative. Similarly, the fleet, fluid Farid Barron acknowledges Ra’s swing-era roots without sounding ostentatiously retro. With Allen repeatedly out front, his squalls, honks, and shrieks in top form, saxophonists Manzini and tenorist Chris Hemingway have fewer openings, but fill them incisively. Drummer Wayne Smith and percussionists Ron McBee and Elson Nacimento steam throughout.

There are dollops of otherworldly sounds when Allen plays his EVI, but for the most part the music on Sun Ra’s Journey has an earthy feel, appropriate for a club space like Smalls. In the current glutted market, this one could get overlooked, but it’s well worth searching out.
–Bill Shoemaker


Gerry Hemingway

> More Moment's Notice

> back to contents