Sunday, September 03, 2017

Straight Horning: David Liebman - The Tree

David Liebman: The Tree (Soul Note) 
Solo soprano saxophone, 1991

Solo saxophone recordingsAlthough Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner predates this album by a few years, The Tree was Liebman’s first truly solo outing. No overdubs, just solo soprano.

The concept album (along with the tribute album) is bit of a specialty of Liebman, and I think he over does it. The Tree features 12 improvisations (each in the 3-5 minutes range), with the components of a tree used as a conceptual framework for the improvising. Liebman moves from the “Roots,” to the “Trunk,” “Limbs,” “Branches,” “Twigs,” and “Leaves” and then back through the cycle in reverse.

As usual, tone is the first thing that grabs my ear. There’s plenty of buzz to the sound (in the middle register especially). It’s definitely something I associate with Liebman’s sound from this era, but it is particularly apparent on this recording. The conceptual framework of the album works, as the structure brings enough variety to keep things interesting, while Liebman’s trademark chromatic lines and fiery approach to the horn bring continuity to the work.

“Roots” - the less dense of the movements features wider intervals
“Trunk” - snaking lines increasing in boldness
“Limbs” - up-tempo lines moving to breaking point (with the occasional grunt or two)
“Branches” - more lyrical approach with a bit more breathing space, combines approaches of the previous three tracks and hints at things to come.
“Twigs” - airy sounds, trills, and flourishes intensify moving towards leaves.
“Leaves” - wailing altissimo and multiphonics (I think it was Ron McClure who coined the “pet store on fire” phrase when describing Lieb playing this way).

I can’t say Liebman is my favourite soprano player, but as a soprano saxophonist I do enjoy listening to him on the straight horn. It’s a case of enjoying hearing someone who can really play the instrument but not really connecting aesthetically. 

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