There is rarely anything as thrilling - when it works and it does here - as a long, free (idiomatically) group improvisation. Note this isn't continuous, autonomous free playing that involves players blasting all the time, skronking, a style that some unfairly call a cacophany. There is always a place and a meaning when that happens make no mistake but that's not what this is. The essence of this briefest of the three improvisations on the album yes composed is another word to describe this freedom of a style that stretches all the way back to late period Coltrane certainly when saxophone is involved. The main thing is that there has to be sincerity and supreme empathetic musicianship for the whole outcome to be convincing. Nobody can be ''winging it'' or worse pretending to be free. Dave Liebman's heyday was the 1970s you might say in another idiom - that isn't true at all because he's been playing brilliantly for decades since in a wide variety of contexts - when Lieb was on some classic Miles Davis jazz-rock albums and created his own dreamy Andalucian sense of pastoral bliss on his classic 1974 release Lookout Farm. Here at Smalls in Greenwich Village a year ago with the free trumpeter Peter Evans who was excellent when Other People Do The Killing were in their prime and is a leader of note himself there is no fear, another crucial factor, and no timidity and no just-playing-for-the-sake-of-it sense and nary a show-off posing shortcutting on display either. A looseness and a discovery of a space beyond the bar line is what they achieve, beyond the common place of everyday rhythmic nicety and a journey into their own sense of savoury tonality and back. When pianist Leo Genovese takes his solo it's a different antique sense emerging - perhaps you might start thinking of some Elmo Hope in the language he adopts. Perhaps not. Certainly the individual contributions matter just as much as the collective power and there is a lot of distilled pan stylistic vocabulary in operation during this piece. The freeness comes in the state of mind and in the shape of this tune as it travels from a teetering precipice to a relative safe harbour where John Hébert's springy bass provides a lot of exact measurement amid the sheer thrust that he develops. Later his solo is very quiet (even too quiet but there's time for reflection when that happens) in the mix. Tyshawn Sorey can compel thoughts of when Coltrane's late-period inspiration Rashied Ali chose to play hard bop lines which he did when not playing free. 'The Beginning' is from Live at Smalls out next week on the Cellar Live label. It is a deeply satisfying near-15 minute long form expression to frame your day faraway from the usual kind of meretricious preening you hear on most daytime radio and in over complacent jazz even. Everyone gets famous for 15 minutes - fame for playing free counts for more in this rarified galaxy far, far away.
Dave Liebman, photo: a detail from the Cellar Live label artwork