LIEBOWITZ-LANE-DRURY: Crosstown. Curve. Blue Shift. Sequoia Moon. Passacaglia / Carol Liebowitz, pno; Adam Lane, bs; Andrew Drury, dm / Line Art Records LA1005CD
In today’s jazz world, you’ve got to find out which is the group’s name that made the record and what is the album’s title. Apparently, no one wants to be pigeonholed into just calling their group by the leader’s name, “The So-and-So Trio or Quartet” or whatever, so they come up with odd names in order to “brand” themselves. Thus the name of the group that made this CD, scheduled for release March 4, 2022, is not the Carol Liebowitz Trio, though it is, but rather “In Real Time,” and the title of the CD is “Blue Shift.” Got it so far?
Good. As it turns out, In Real Time’s goal is completely spontaneous music “with no preconceived material.” As I’ve pointed out in reviews of such groups on the Leo Records label as well as some of Ivo Perelman’s and Satoko Fujii’s releases, this can be a dangerous road to walk down because, as Charles Mingus once famously said, “You can’t improvise on nothing.” Truer words were never spoken. Even the most out-there jazz musician needs to have some idea of form as they go about their business, even if the initial material is just a small motif. In order for music to be effective, it must have some kind of structure, even if that structure evolves spontaneously from small cells. Pianist Matthew Shipp, for, one, is a master of this because he also plays more conventional, non-“free” jazz, and thus always has the full range of chord changes in his mind before he walks the musical plank and jumps off.
Fortunately, this is one of those CDs that works because the two principal melodic players, Liebowitz and Lane, understand what musical structure is and thus never completely abandon it. Liebowitz, in fact, originally studied classical piano, shifting to jazz, after which time she studied with Connie Crothers (1941-2016). Crothers, sadly, is virtually forgotten today, one of the early pioneers of spontaneously improvised jazz from the late 1960s who had studied with the man who created free jazz, Lennie Tristano. Perhaps the reason for this is that Crothers’ own playing always stayed relatively “cool,” seldom using the wider range of dynamics in her music that Tristano did so effectively, but she was a superb musician nonetheless.
To judge from this record, Liebowitz clearly learned a lot from her but plays with more passion. The opening piece, Crosstown, is a succession of chunky, rootless chords knitted together by means of common notes within those chords. This gives her playing an organic feeling despite its wholly spontaneous nature, and bassist Lane, listening carefully to what Liebowitz is playing, creates excellent counterpoint and counter-melodies as she changes tempo and mood, eventually moving away from all chords to single note playing in the right hand against a repeated chord in the left. Eventually Liebowitz moves into a series of tremolos, at which point Lane goes a little crazy, flying into his altissimo register, before they move into a quiet ending.
Curve opens with Lane playing high, atonal figures on the edges of his strings, sounding almost like an electronic instrument; Liebowitz likewise enters high up in the piano range, playing sprinkled notes against his edgy figures. Unfortunately, the music rather stagnates in this one for a period of time, being more a succession of edgy noise and going nowhere. Fortunately, things quiet down as Lane drops out, leaving Liebowitz’ soft, sparse piano note a chance to coalesce as drummer Drury creates complex patterns around her with his snare and tom-tom. As the volume increases, all three engage in a collective improvisation, all playing against one another rhythmically as the music builds to a climax, although after a while things become wild and chaotic. It does recede in tempo, volume, intensity and complexity, however, as Liebowitz’ steady hands again take over.
The title track, Blue Shift, also opens with the bass, but this time in its normal register playing a series of slow pizzicato notes as piano and drums fill in deftly around it. Eventually the drums assume a sort of uneven but regular loping beat, which slowly increases in speed, as Liebowitz plays a series of circular atonal licks. Again, the tempo increases little by little, but with the pianist firmly in charge, some musical form is established and maintained. Tempo and volume again recede incrementally as they actually play together like a normal piano trio for a spell before winding down to a quiet ending.
More edgy bass playing is heard in the opening of Sequoia Moon, this time sounding like a trumpeting elephant, though the pianist is again firmly in charge of the proceedings and establishes some order despite one moment where the tempo is suspended and everyone goes haywire. Liebowitz then plays a sequence of chords that, although they do not form a melody at all, establishes both a harmonic and rhythmic pattern that bass and drums can work around. By the 5:25 mark, an odd but regular sort of rhythmic groove has been established, and all three musicians work around it deftly. Eventually, a nice but asymmetric rhythm dominates the proceedings as the musicians continue improvising.
The final track, Passacaglia, opens with the drums and bass, into which Liebowitz pitches in with some very strange crushed chords before straightening the harmony out at least a little bit, continuing to build on this with minimal development as the other two work around her. A real passacaglia it is not, though in the long second section Liebowitz does her best to make it so, but it’s an interesting finish to this album.
I’m just guessing here, but since the entire album is only 46 minutes long, and it took the group two years to release it since they recorded it in September 2019, that there was more material put on tape that was rejected before deciding on the issued tracks and their sequence in this album. If so, they chose well for the most part, and in fact I give them credit for trying to put their best foot forward as a spontaneous jazz group. It is clearly an auspicious debut disc, and one that all lovers of spontaneous improvisation will want to hear.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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