Dave Liebman Group

Expansions Live
(Whaling City Sound)

The Dave Liebman Group’s new live double album pushes some interesting buttons. The musicians excel both at extemporizing freely and playing within a song structure, flexible as that structure may be. In all settings, freedom is the grail, whether painting a broad conceptual vista or conjuring fine details in the moment.

There’s also something nostalgic about Expansions Live. Even the notion of dividing the material into “acoustic” and “electric” discs nods toward the late ’60s, when young jazz players gleefully outraged traditionalists by plugging in and cranking up.

The second disc features Liebman’s electric music, and though it is indeed electrifying, it ignores the high-voltage, rock-oriented work of Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Tony Williams’ Lifetime. Instead, it goes back to the Miles Davis wellspring. Keyboardist Bobby Avey provides the dominant texture on these tracks. His ring-modulated Rhodes electric piano casts spells of mystery throughout the music, like drums in some shadowy distance.

Whereas the electric disc features soloists stirring through deep, tactile atmospherics, the acoustic album moves between unfettered atonal inventions. Liebman leads the way into an exploration based less on the notes than on the spirits they summon. It’s an elusive approach, one that requires much from gifted players but rewards listeners even more.