Since he began to seriously pursue a career as a jazz artist back in the 1960s, Dave Liebman has been on a transformative journey towards becoming a true original in the genre. After assuming sideman slots with the likes of Miles Davis
, to name but a few, he has certainly earned his stripes. Those who've followed him more closely understand that he has become a deep and soulful storyteller in jazz in a way few others have.
So what would you say to a trailblazer like Liebman when you discover he's taken a batch of beloved pop songs - sweet, memorable, hummable chestnuts" in the popular lexicon - and completely deconstructed it? Liebman has, over the years, proved to be a risk-taker, a challenger, someone who purposely defies convention in a way that every iconoclast, especially musical ones, dare to every chance they get. After such an illustrious career, it's evident that Liebman has earned the right to cherry pick his projects and challenges. Lineage, his project with drummer Michael Stephans
Billed as rock and pop classics revisited," Lineage is actually a project long in coming. Liebman and Stephans talked about the idea a few years ago and started compiling a wish list of possible songs. Gven the trajectory and complexity of Lieb's career, they never got the chance to pull it off. Still, like all interesting ideas, it hung around and never really faded out of view. In 2010, the idea resurfaced. Lieb, with Stephans, guitarist Vic Juris
began working on them the way a baker kneads hunks of dough. The list of potential covers, begun years back by Lieb included several of their favorite songs from the 50s and 60s by artists like Elvis Presley
. Song titles emerged: Love Me Tender," Wipeout," Woodstock," and Walk, Don't Run," among others.
Then the deconstructions started. Lieb and company cracked chestnut after chestnut, and watched the shells fly. Down goes Mr. Sandman," re-harmonized in classic Liebman fashion. The same goes for I Only Have Eyes for You," the vocal classic popularized in the 50s by The Flamingos. The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby" is less loose, but equally bewitching, fueled by Liebman's soprano sax and a lovely counterpoint arrangement by Evan Gregor. A funky take on Tequila," a song Liebman admits led him directly to the saxophone, is playful and rousing, but in a way only vaguely reminiscent of the original. In every case, the band breaks down these songs, the way Rodin destroyed his sculptures, with panache and irreverence at the same time; treating the material roughly, while also stroking it gently as one would a temperamental animal.
Produced by Liebman and Stephans, recorded at Tommy Tedesco's Tedesco Studio and mixed by Marty Mellinger at Cross Keys, the recording, on the Whaling City Sound imprint, falls at a beautiful and logical crossroads of Liebman's career in which he is comfortable enough to go pop," inventive and mature enough to deconstruct songs with wit and imagination, and entertaining enough to make sure he doesn't leave listeners on either the pop or the jazz sides behind in the process.
Dave Liebman presently serves as the Artistic Director of the IASJ and is Artist in Residence at the Manhattan School of Music, NYC. He has consistently placed among the top three finalists of the DownBeat Critics Poll since 1973 in the Soprano Saxophone category, gaining the top place in 2011 as well as placing first in The Jazz Times Critic's Poll in the same year. From 1991 through 2012, the Dave Liebman Group featuring guitarist Vic Juris toured and recorded nearly 20 CDs, ranging from jazz standards to Puccini arias, adaptations from the John Coltrane
from Helsinki, Finland playing music specially commissioned to feature Lieb's unique soprano saxophone style.
Liebman has also been featured on close to 350 recordings, of which he has been the leader or co-leader on 150. His artistic output has ranged from straight ahead classic jazz to chamber music; from fusion to avant-garde and world music. Liebman's published materials include a wide variety of books considered classics in the field as well as instructional DVDs and chamber music.