There is a saying, “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” This also applies to music.
There are no longer many contemporaries of Miles Davis and John Coltrane around today, and even fewer are still actively composing and performing. David Liebman, 62, is one of those few.
What truly sets him apart, though, is not only his illustrious background but the fact that he continues to explore new musical territory and is also committed to sharing his knowledge as an educator. His music, having matured through decades of discipline, searching and playing, has a depth and fierce individuality that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s pop culture.
Liebman has a career history that sounds almost like the stuff of Jazz legends. Inspired as a youngster after experiencing John Coltrane’s live performances in New York, he began his Jazz studies with Joe Allard, Lennie Tristano and Charles Lloyd during high school and college. After graduating from New York University (with a degree in American History), Liebman decided to devote himself full time to music.
In the early 70’s, he helped found a cooperative of musicians called Free Life Communication, which became an important part of the New York “loft” Jazz scene, and spent a year performing with Ten Wheel Drive, one of the earliest Jazz Fusion groups.
Liebman then launched his career performing in two high profile groups — with band leaders Elvin Jones (Coltrane’s drummer) and Miles Davis. From 1970-74 Liebman played with these two Jazz masters, touring, recording and performing regularly. He also began to write and perform his own compositions, collaborating with Bob Moses (in the Open Sky Trio) and Richie Beirach (in Lookout Farm).
Lookout Farm recorded for the ECM and A&M labels, toured through North America, Europe and Asia and received many accolades, such as an award from Down Beat magazine in 1976.
Through the next couple decades, Liebman continued to perform worldwide with other excellent and wellknown musicians, such as Chick Corea, John Scofield and Kenny Kirkland.
In 1991, Liebman formed a band with guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko which continues to perform a unique, cutting edge and completely original style of Jazz. Called the David Liebman Group, this ensemble mixes influences from past and present and across genres to produce a fresh, dynamic and challenging sound that pushes both performers and listeners into new musical territory.
“I am an unabashed eclectic,” Liebman writes on his Web site, “meaning (I’m) interested in many different musical idioms. I trace this back to my formative years, the 1960s, when I was exposed to all styles of music which were more readily available than in previous times to any interested listener. It was not uncommon for me to listen to Coltrane, Hendrix, Bartok and Shankar over the course of one day. I was attracted to many diverse areas of music and when I began to construct my own musical landscape in the 1970s … I wanted to express myself in all these styles and their many combinations. You could call this Fusion in the true sense of the word.”
Unlike many Jazz performances, which typically draw from a repertoire of Jazz standards, tunes that are fairly well-known and for which the challenge lies in the arrangement, interpretation and execution, the David Liebman Group performs mostly originals. These compositions do not adhere to any one particular style — on the contrary, they all draw from a wide range of sources. Liebman likes to pull from Classical, Pop and international music as well as traditional Jazz. The group also plays extensively with different time-feels and odd tempos, with a focus on delivering a spontaneous performance aligned with the moment rather than a pre-determined arrangement.
Many of Liebman’s compositions relate to a place, person or event from his past and tell a story that is at once personal to the composer and able to be interpreted completely differently by the listener. The goal of each of these songs, however abstract they may seem, is to evoke feeling in the audience. Liebman describes Jazz as “music of individuality and interaction” and the performances of his compositions are deliberately interactive, as much a response to the mood of the audience as a written concept.
Liebman works together with his bandmates (all respectively established musicians with long lists of credentials and experience) to create a group sound that exhibits a balance of spontaneity, order, emotion and control.
Marcinko, the group’s drummer, says, “As individuals and as a group the ensemble keeps an extremely open mind to the music. We collectively allow the music to take us on a journey that is never the same from night to night.”
He adds, “I hope the audience can appreciate the energy level and the musicality of the group. I also hope we can spark something inside each of those listening to the very challenging compositions we play.”
THE DAVID LIEBMAN GROUP performs Nov. 11 at the Blue Wisp downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.