David Liebman, The Elements: Water Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Saxophonist and composer David Liebman has released the first album of a series inspired by the elements called The Elements: Water. For the album, Liebman uses a quarter of 20-time GRAMMY-Award winner Pat Metheny on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. The material ranges from free improvisations to straight-ahead swing, all in the modern jazz vernacular. Liebman performs on soprano, tenor saxophone, and wood flute, giving an enjoyable sonic range of orchestral colors.
“Water: Giver of Life” opens the album and introduces the central theme used throughout the album. Metheny’s solo nylon-strung guitar opens the song with a beautiful unaccompanied introduction. The flowing melody depicts the fluidity of water, and as the composition unfolds, the interaction between the quartet is heard and felt. The impressionistic folk-jazz style of Metheny’s solo is gorgeous and sympathetically supported by McBee and Hart. Liebman actively approaches his solo, building the energy and giving the overall tune a pleasing shape and flow.
“Heaven’s Gift” is a straightforward swing composition with a memorable melody. Each track on the album presents a new color, style, and feel. Here we get a modern jazz swing tune that lets the quartet stretch out their mainstream jazz expressions. Metheny is on fire during his solo and turns in the best straight-ahead improvisation of the date. His lines are linear with motivic development and his usual impeccable time feel. Liebman’s solo is expressive and delivered with a flowing technique.
The Elements: Water is a delightful album and should be experienced as a whole. Liebman’s concept of water as a theme is easily heard throughout the album. The project is also an excellent vehicle for expanding jazz fans’ comfort zones, as the various styles heard on the project cover so many jazz styles. For example, the free improvisations are intense but balanced in duration, with soothing sounds surrounding them.
This balance within the project will push the listener to pay attention to the less familiar sections and relish the familiar. In conclusion, the album invites deep listening and thought, as any excellent jazz album should.