Going Their Way?
The Dave Liebman Group’s Expansions Live journeys to parts unknown
It is a work in progress in the very best sense. It is music in progress. Performance in progress. Musicians moving music forward, making things happen, responding to the actions and reactions of their bandmates. Making their own way, then joining hands for a while. Expansions Live, the Dave Liebman Group’s brand new recording, is a thrill ride and a joy ride both.
Those that know jazz know Liebman, and those that know Liebman know he is a master improviser. His latest band, Expansions, is an ambitious project designed to disassemble and reassemble the language of jazz. At their core, Expansions is an adventurous ensemble, eager to invent and constantly in search of new terrain to explore. Their debut album, Samsara, skirted the outer edges of new jazz interpolation, with a profoundly intellectual approach to composing. A follow up project, The Puzzle, found the band delving even deeper into the headier aspects of improvising, daring each other to unearth brave new compositions. Expansions Live finds the band snapping an aural photograph, capturing a time and a place, as if to say, “This is us right here, right now. Check it!”
Expansions centers on the generous skills of five extraordinary musicians—Liebman (soprano sax and flute), Matt Vashlishan (reeds), Bobby Avey (keys), Tony Marino (bass), and Alex Ritz (drums). Each one of is a heavy lifter, with the capacity (and tendency) for extraordinary adventure. Together, they embark on a bristling night of discovery, traipsing through a set consisting of songs from The Puzzle and Samsara. It is a pleasure to hear tracks like the eerie “Vendetta,” a cracking go at Basie’s “Good Bait,” and the bruising “Danse De La Fureur,” a Liebman-adapted track excerpted from a Messiaen composition, which closes the show. The material is rough-hewn and organic, much the way Liebman and company have designed them, with many gratifying moving parts and just as many blind alley ways leading to who knows where. That is why Expansions Live is such a gas. It’s a masterful exercise from a band that is never content to merely play great. They would much rather make something happen, and in the process, take their open-minded listeners to, well, destination unknown.
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