A lot of albums are over-produced. This welcome reissue, surely a classic in Dave Liebman's vast discography, isn't. Instead it has a very matter of fact sense to it. Clarity is all.
Between 1997 and 2020 Liebman made a series of four records themed around the elements that we live in - water, earth, fire and air ''each one intended to be suite-like, using different musicians and different instrumentations,'' Lieb told Stuart Nicholson in Jazzwise.
These four masters (Lieb playing soprano and tenor saxes, Indian flute on The Elements: Water, Pat Metheny of course guitar, Cecil McBee, double bass, Quest's Billy Hart - drums) have nothing to prove but continue to travel deeper into the music. You get that sense here. Simplicity matters on one level and there is nothing harder than being simple.
The 11th track is a Lieb interview conducted by Arkadia Records producer Bob Karcy and is very informative, the questions are well couched - the key takeaway is that the 'Baptismal Font' track is the inversion of the melody, the backwards reading of the melody, Lieb explains. There are 9 key tracks (the 10th is a reprise) and plenty of content in the sense of absorbing composition within each piece.
Metheny is significant on the record playing different guitars throughout, opening in contemplative balladic guise that finds Liebman then journeying with him. McBee pitch bends his way in on 'White Caps' and the way the piece develops is loose and exploratory. What McBee contributes is one of the magical elements within the sound. The sax theme here is gutsy and strong and definitive.
Lieb has a huge discography that includes hundreds of recordings. Many will go back to the 1970s particularly to Lookout Farm, his work with Miles Davis, or wonderful much more recent work with Saxophone Summit or Vein. On The Elements: Water there is no grandstanding, quite the reverse and you get a sense of humble repose and an absence of ego. The wood flute used on 'Reflecting Pool' adds a certain mysticism to the album that gives it even more of a panoramic sweep. And certainly panorama is a good word here because the music takes in a vast musical landscape and the pieces slot together like a jigsaw without any missing bits so you get a completeness in the listening experience. Intimacy say on 'Storm Surge' can be the complexity of a scalar idea, the pouring out of ideas that only improvisation on the saxophone can express. 'Ebb and Flow' has an incredible intensity to it and certainly for pure improvisation this is the track to turn to best of all. Metheny's 'Guitar Interlude' is another high point of an at times moving album that stimulates on both an intellectual and instinctive level. Stephen Graham
Top left-to-right: Billy Hart, Bob Karcy, Dave Liebman, Pat Metheny, Cecil McBee. Photo via Arkadia