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Dave Liebman - Return of the Tenor / Standards


Dave Liebman - Tenor Sax, Phil Markowitz - Piano, Vic Juris - Guitar, Tony Marino - Bass, Jamey Haddad - Drums

1. All The Things You Are 10:15
2. Bye Bye Blackbird 8:27

3. Loverman 7:00

4. Secret Love 9:53

5. There Will Never Be Another You 6:21

6. Yesterdays 7:23

7. No Greater Love 8:19

8. Summertime 8:45

9. All Of Me 4:27

Total Time 71:18

Listen to CD Tracks

      THE TENOR - The Return of the Tenor may sound like a sci-fi flick, but really it is nothing so dramatic. I could never give up the soprano, which after exclusively concentrating on for 15 years does at its best feel like an extension of my entire physical and mental being. But the tenor beckons for several reasons, both musical and personal. I am approaching 50 years old a few months from this writing and I'm marking off the occasion with some special projects: a new, updated "Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist" (Advance Music) as well as a solo project which will serve as a follow-up to the "Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner", recorded near my 40th year for CMP in 1985 (which by the way is one of my personal favorites). Coming to terms with the big horn has been looming in my head as a kind of mid-life challenge. After all, I began tenor at thirteen years old with my first teacher, Nat Shapiro, and went on to study with the legendary Joe Allard. Until 1980, it was one of the constants in my teenage and adult life as well as a vehicle of inspiration through Coltrane and Rollins which propelled me towards my life's work of playing and understanding jazz. It's time to "fess-up" which I will do as honestly as possible here.

    One of the reasons I put the tenor down, besides wanting to see if concentrating on soprano would further me artistically, was because the style that I played in (referred to as post-Coltrane) was by the late 1970's becoming too common and cliched for my taste. I figured that the next (one or two) generations of  Trane-inspired tenorists would extend the language beyond what Steve Grossman and myself had done (especially when we recorded "Live at the Lighthouse" with Elvin Jones in 1972) and that would be that!! To my ears, by and large, this has not happened, at least on a level prominent enough to have a major effect. Outside of some very individual sopranoists who have constructed a unique approach, it is my feeling that with our culture's emphasis upon and rewarding of conformity rather than originality, much creative energy has been increasingly stifled in the past decade or so. What I mean is that I haven't heard much on the tenor in these 15 years that impresses me beyond great flash and technique.

    The result of this feeling is that I am personally less self-conscious about my Coltrane roots and in fact am not deterred from facing this head on; something I was not mature enough to do when I was younger. Also, to manifest two different aspects of one's personality on each horn doesn't disturb me as it did when I wasn't really confident about who I was. I know myself better now and the confusion of identities I was experiencing playing tenor, soprano and flute is no longer a problem. I'm not worried about sounding like someone else as I feel that the point has been made on soprano.

    I must admit that friends and associates who knew my tenor playing were very supportive and made me feel they missed my sound and approach. After all, where an instrument begins is in the sound. One can only do so much manipulation of technique and equipment before the inborn physical and mental attributes of an individual will assert themselves to form a personal sound. I don't know where my tone comes from, but I do know what other tones I like and dislike. Now when I hear my tenor, I realize that the sound is rather distinctive. Finally, after recently recording on the tenor in two, as of now unreleased free jazz settings (which incidentally takes me back to the 60's scene where I began) and then doing this present set of standards in early 1996, I hear how differently I treat the two horns. I know for a fact that by being so close to Miles Davis' playing for a few years in the early 70's, I consciously and unconsciously absorbed some definite trumpetisms on the soprano -- in general, a way of finessing the music -- playing over, around and under it. To be honest, pushing a lot of emotion through the soprano by and large is not very attractive aesthetically to my taste. I have been guilty of it, so I know!! In my better musical moments I have used the soprano as a kind of gliding voice, beguiling the rhythm section, cautiously "tiptoeing through the tulips" in a sense, but the tenor is different.

    It's a wild animal, a bucking bronco. With it, I tend to go more directly head to head inside the music. Maybe this translates musically to more chances taken, more densely packed lines, more roughness and use of overtone combinations in the sound, more vocalizations, freer and faster rhythmic groupings, a pronounced Rollins influence, etc. For sure, it feels like a major piece of machinery compared to the "fish" horn. Without making a sales pitch, playing the German made Keilwerth tenor does satisfy the physical and sound characteristics I need to feel good about the whole experience. In any case, the tenor is back in my arsenal for the time being.

    The Recording. It is appropriate that the first pieces of a complete tenor recording be standards. And I mean STANDARDS!!! After all these are the tunes I played as a teenager on club dates and in the Catskill Mountain hotel region near New York before I knew that jazz musicians used them as improvisational vehicles. Essentially, these are jam session tunes. Except for "Lover Man", I have not recorded any of these previously. Having recorded dozens of both jazz and standard American songs, I decided to concentrate only on the latter, leaving jazz originals for another time. There are no purposeful or planned reharmonizations or elaborate arrangements which I have been prone to on other "repertoire" recordings. This was to be different - an old fashioned blowing date.

    For my present group it was a challenge since all our previous recordings have been heavily composed and arranged, even the standards. Many jazz musicians come from this material for their beginnings and in our case we have never played together in this context. Finally for the sake of variety, and also to feature these wonderful musicians I have been playing with since 1991 on this, our 5th recording, I broke the group up into duo, trio, quartet along with the usual quintet setting.

    The Music. We started the session with "All the Things" and had no discussion about it. In fact, I just began as you hear on the first track, without announcing the tune. Check out how Vic immediately shades me and Phil's chords increase in dissonance and spaciousness as we progress. Jerome Kern's opus, so widely performed, is as sophisticated as it gets in the idiom, harmonically, melodically, and even the 36 bar form. The little pedal intro and fade have become an intergal part of the tune and are nice to play as a balance to all the modulating harmonies.

    "Blackbird" to me is a signature Miles Davis tune - the feel, the tempo, the approach, the long tag. Tony's solo is like a prelude for the ensuing solos, replete with quotes, which inspires both Vic and myself likewise. There is a playfulness about this tune which I've always enjoyed. I remember Miles and Trane (especially on his own version) playing the tag even longer than the body of the tune itself.

    I recorded "Lover Man" before with Richie Beirach on "Double Edge" (Storyville) with the flute. It's one of my all time favorites, possibly due to the title being a play of Lieb (love in German)
Man!! I also played this for Caris at our wedding. The range in this key (F major) is wonderful for playing in the high and low range of the tenor. Phil mixes in some jazz root facets (blues licks,
boogie woogie like bass) along with his usual fluid right hand lines in a very logically formatted solo.

    "Secret Love" is a great vehicle for a Latin feel. Also, because the Bb pedal works for so much of the tune, there are some obvious "side-slipping" possibilities (meaning half step movement) and even room for a short "Giant Steps" pattern (minor thirds ascending, fifths descending). It is the major key quality that I like most about this composition.

    "Another You" was recorded in a trio format in 1959 by Rollins (with an outstanding chromaticism of the melody) but here I have Jamey switching between double and normal time while I try to play opposite. Tony lets melody dictate his direction, never just running the changes. In fact in this tune Tony seems to attain a kind of Wilber Ware feeling.

    The little vamp introduction and ending on "Yesterdays" is similar to what we used to do with the Elvin Jones Group in the early 70s. In fact, one of my audition tunes for that gig was this one. I particularly enjoy playing with Vic in this trio context as we did on "Classic Ballads" (Candid) a few years ago. His layed back time with Tony's support here feels so nice, and believe it or not, after five years of hearing Tony, this is the first arco solo from him. Tenor-wise, I try to do something that only the big horn can do - a breathy, (Ben Webster) sub-tone sound in the bottom register.

     The sheer simplicity of "No Greater Love" has always attracted me because both the harmony and melody allow for so much natural chromaticism. Once again Miles immortalized this tune forever. The rhythm section gets an up and down quality throughout, especially during Phil's solo. This is Tony and Jamey doing their thing which even inspires me to return and play a bit more after my initial solo statement. The tag which starts out as a normal III-VI-II-V progression evolves to its own character.

    I don't know where or even if I ever heard "Summertime" played in a kind of Elvinish 3/4 feel, but it seems appropriate for the title as well as the McCoy type fourth chord voicings from Phil. This is another very simple tune, basically I-IV-V in minor. Jamey and Tony really get a relaxed glide on this.

    Finally, an even simpler "All of Me" which was a frequent vehicle from one of my first teachers, Lennie Tristano, is done in a kind of round robin fashion, with two of us always playing around the melody. Playing very fast tempos is not something I enjoy much anymore, (maturity or old age?). This proved interesting and challenging to do on the tenor. Again, the C major quality of this tune is refreshing.

    Final Observations.
    Most of these tunes are very simple, which for me is the reason to play them with a spontaneous, quasi jam session type of attitude. Standards should be fun to play and allow the artists to use their common language as a vehicle for creativity and self expression. It's odd - but after listening back to a take of these tunes at the session, I couldn't judge them in an objective way as I can for my own music. Playing this style is like diving into the ocean with countless versions of these tunes racing around your subconscious. One thing is for sure, it's a lot of fun to use these wonderful compositions as vehicles for a group to communicate together. We had a great educational experience doing this.

    Dave Liebman, January '96