Blindfold Test: Dave Liebman


​“When you play blues-type stuff, the material is pretty obvious; it’s how you do a lot with a little,” Liebman said.

(Photo: William Brown)

At 76, soprano and tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman — an alumnus of bands led by Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, leader of too many bands to name and too many albums to count, distinguished educator, author, pedagogue, NEA Jazz Master and polio survivor — continues to explore and expand his horizons, as evidenced by the recent releases Live At Smalls, a ferocious scratch-improvised quintet encounter with mid-career practitioners Peter Evans, Leo Genovese, John Hebert and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and Now Two, an incantational meeting with Sorey and percussionist Adam Rudolph. This is his third Blindfold Test.

Chris Potter

“Klactoveedsedstene” (Got The Keys To The Kingdom, Edition, 2023) Potter, tenor saxophone; Craig Taborn, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums.

It sounds like Sonny Rollins. I don’t know the tune. The drummer is really loose — great groove, great control of the language (in this case, the hardcore bebop language), breaking it up from the start. The saxophonist interpolates their own stuff, to a point, and is very true to the language. Fantastic playing. My compliments to them. Maybe Joshua Redman? [afterwards] Chris has great control of several languages.

Roscoe Mitchell/Milford Graves

“Steady State” (Flow States, ScienSonic, 2020) Mitchell, sopranino saxophone; Graves, drums.

Is it a sopranino? That’s completely foreign to my experience. This person has a lot of stuff down on the instrument. Music is color, rhythm, form and harmony. This piece is strong on the color, which means sound. You don’t look for G7, G pentatonic and all that. Maybe you’d like to hear a change of texture for a full musical experience. But it’s very interesting. The drummer has the right vibe: rolling, very sympathetic to what’s happening. They’re professional free players. You hear the dedication.

Ingrid Laubrock/Andy Milne

“Boulder Fall Ejecta” (Fragile, Intakt, 2022) Laubrock, soprano saxophone; Milne, piano.

Great playing, particularly in the unison, where you can really hear the writer’s intention. They moved around pretty well; in fact, maybe a little too much — 5 minutes, four different ways to play. The presentation could have been leaner; especially after the piano starts, the soprano player could wait a little longer between ideas — they’ll eventually get to the stuff we’re listening to, anyway. [afterwards] Ingrid sounded great. She was a student; I’m proud of her.

Joe Lovano/Jakob Bro

“As It Should Be” (Once Around The Room: A Tribute To Paul Motian, ECM, 2022) Lovano, tenor saxophone; Bro, electric guitar; Larry Grenadier, Anders Christiansen, Thomas Morgan, acoustic bass; Joey Baron, Jorge Rossy, drums. Great track. Frisell and Lovano? Not Frisell? But it’s Lovano. Nice head. Nice development by Joe. Joe can be lyrical and intense at the same time. It’s one of his secrets. He’s like that as a person also. Except towards the end, where he starts burning a little bit, it’s a pretty mellow track. Very well played, and even though it seemed improvised from the start, Joe kept control of everything.

Christian McBride’s New Jawn

“Obsequious” (Prime, Mack Avenue, 2023) McBride, bass; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet; Nasheet Waits, drums; Larry Young, composer.)

Ornette influence, obviously. The tenor player had to deal with what the trumpet laid down, very strong — formidable. But he took his time, and then left that space and started doing straightahead jazz — covered a whole bunch of bases. Impressive playing. Great drummer.

James Brandon Lewis

“Womb Water” (Eye Of I, Independent Release, 2023) Lewis, tenor saxophone; Christopher Hoffman, cello; Max Jaffe, drums.

Excellent drummer. Sounded like three people playing together. The tenor player finally got out of one way of playing and into the harmonics and multiphonics that are played so much now, which was a great break, and stayed there ’til the end, which was good judgment. This has no changes, but color; not real melodies, just textures. Beautiful player.

Eric Alexander

“Eddie Harris” (Chicago Fire, High Note, 2014) Alexander, tenor saxophone, composer; Harold Mabern, piano; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.

Swinging. When you play blues-type stuff, the material is pretty obvious; it’s how you do a lot with a little. This tenor player played the shit out of the double-timing that he did, and he turned me around with a riff in fourths that he might have found in my book. Great sound. [afterwards] It had the Eddie Harris vibe for sure. Eric Alexander is very good, well versed in the past and — up to a point — the present. He likes to be secure. I like to be insecure ... musically.

JD Allen

“Down South” (Americana, Vol. 2, Savant, 2022) Allen, tenor saxophone; Charlie Hunter, guitar; Gregg August, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Chain gang shit! There’s a vibe here. I like the tenor player. A little out of tune, but that’s something we all suffer from at times. It’s a little predictable, but on the other hand, it’s a trancey thing where they play over a simple vamp, which you’re allowed to do. It doesn’t always have to be deep.

Sam Newsome/Jean-Michel Pilc

“Giant Steps” (Magic Circle, Independent Release, 2017) Newsome, soprano saxophone; Pilc, piano.

I’ve done two or three concerts with Sam. When he plays, you have nothing to say afterwards. Plus, he can play straightahead. The piano player reminded me of John Blum, who I played with recently; he’s absorbed Cecil Taylor as an influence, which I haven’t heard too much of. An educated listener would quickly identify this as “Giant Steps,” and what they did with it is an occasion for celebration. At first it was a bit of a comic relief, but it was great when they got into it. I liked the melody at the end. No waiting for the rests. Why have rests? You do them anyway! DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

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